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'Racism Is A Public Health Issue': LA County Highlights Disproportionate Coronavirus Deaths In Communities Of Color

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Los Angeles County officials reported 1,445 new confirmed cases of coronavirus today, bringing the total to at least 61,045 cases countywide. In total, 2,160 cases have been reported in Long Beach and 968 in Pasadena (those two cities operate their own health departments).

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer also reported 36 new deaths of COVID-19 patients. The total number of deaths countywide now stands at 2,565 people.

Of the 36 people who’ve died in the past 24 hours, 25 were over 65 and, of those victims, 22 had underlying health conditions, Ferrer said. Nine victims were between 41 and 65 and six of them had underlying health conditions. One victim was between 18 and 40 and had underlying health conditions.

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So far, 94% of those who have died had underlying health conditions, Ferrer said.

SYSTEMIC RACISM AND PUBLIC HEALTH

Ferrer provided a racial breakdown of the confirmed deaths, based on information for 2,373 of the victims. The data was presented both as an overall percentage and by rates per 100,000 residents in each ethnic group. The latter highlights the disproportionate number of deaths experienced in communities of color.

  • 31 (per 100,000) - African American
  • 30 - Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
  • 29 - Latino/Latina
  • 21 - Asian
  • 15 - White

Ferrer also shared county health data that looked at excess deaths in the county by race, ethnicity and income. The data showed that "if the death rate for all groups were the same as it is for white residents who have the lowest death rate, we would have 754 fewer deaths," she said.
Looking at communities by income levels, Ferrer said that if the death rate was the same countywide as it is in communities with little poverty, 981 fewer people would have died in communities with higher levels of poverty. Ferrer added:

"The very real impact of the injustices plays out every day with the news I share with you, and amplifies why racism is a public health issue. The disproportionately higher number of deaths from COVID-19 among black and brown people is an indication of the impact of racism and discrimination on health and well-being."

Dr. Christina Ghaly, who oversees the county's Department of Health Services, reiterated that the disporportionate death rates are not a mystery: "...this is due to the long standing structural and systemic racism that is apparent in multiple aspects of our society," she said.
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More than 80% of the county's COVID-19 patients have self-identified as people of color, she added.

UPTICK IN TRANSMISSION RATE

L.A. County residents were able to "flatten the curve" and lower the effective transmission rate of COVID-19 after several weeks of stay-at-home orders. But the rate of transmission appears to be trending slightly up in recent days, health officials said today. According to Ghaly:

"If transmission has indeed increased, then the model predicts that we will have a continued increase in hospital patient volume over the next two to four weeks, and we would anticipate beginning to see that change happen over the coming one to two weeks."

Ghaly said county health care workers should have enough ventilators to handle that potentially increased volume, but said the amount of ICU beds "may become inadequate in two to four weeks," based on the current estimates.

ADVICE FOR PROTESTERS

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Ferrer also mentioned the large crowds that have gathered throughout the region to protest against police brutality and racism in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

There was obviously not a lot of social distancing happening at those demonstrations — and some experts told us earlier this week that police tactics against protesters could lead to more COVID-19 cases.

Ferrer said anyone who believes they may have been exposed from any large gatherings should get tested, but suggested waiting and isolating for two weeks before doing so. She explained:

"... if you do get tested right away after you think you've had an exposure exposure, you're likely to test negative, because your viral load will be too low to be detected yet on a test... After you've been exposed does not mean that you can't become infected later during the incubation period. So we ask — even if you tested and were negative — you still need to remain away from others for 14 days after you've had your exposure."

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