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New LA County Report Gives Most Detailed Picture Yet Of COVID-19's Harsh Toll On Poor And Non-White Angelenos

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A nurse instructs a patient where to go to complete their test at a drive-thru testing site at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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The picture painted is grim: The coronavirus is having an increasingly disproportionate impact on the poor and communities of color in Los Angeles County.

A new report from the county's public health department offers the most detail to date, and also clarifies earlier reported data that seemed to suggest Latinos have been less affected by COVID-19 relative to their population size than in other parts of the state and country.

Instead, health officials now say that once adjusted for age, Latinos make up close to half (46%) of all COVID-19 cases in the county, and suffer the third highest death rate when adjusted for age, not far below African Americans. Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander residents have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus, although their actual numbers of cases and deaths are small because they make up a small percentage of L.A. County's overall population, just 0.4%.

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People who live in high-poverty areas of L.A. have died at a rate three times higher than those who live in the wealthiest areas, the analysis found.

Even as the toll is far less severe in wealthier areas, testing for COVID-19 remains much higher in those communities -- a trend that has held since the early days of the pandemic.

The data comes with a roadmap for addressing the disparate effects of the disease on poor and non-white communities, starting with making testing "ubiquitous" and expanding options beyond mobile test sites, which generally require people to sign up online.


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"We know that COVID is a terrible public health problem for all of us, but it is hitting some communities harder than others. We need to work in a very collaborative way with members of the community," said Paul Simon, author of the report and chief science officer for the county public health department.

LATINO SHARE OF POSITIVE CASES GROWS

While cases of COVID-19 among Latinos initially appeared low in the county, experts cautioned that their share was likely to increase. And it has.

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A month ago, on April 7, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which covers most of L.A. County (Long Beach and Pasadena have their own health departments) reported that Latinos accounted for 28% of COVID-19 deaths thus far. On April 29, Latinos' share of deaths had increased to 38%, according to public health officials.

That percentage remains steady today, at 38%, despite the fact that Latinos account for 49% of county residents.

But when looked at as the number of deaths per 100,000 people in the population -- as in the county's new report -- the data paints a different picture. The report also adjusts for differences in the distribution of ages, called the "age-adjusted rate," in L.A.'s diverse communities (for example, Latinos make up a larger percentage of young Angelenos than older Angelenos). It found:

  • 3 deaths per 100,000 American Indian or Alaska Native residents
  • 6 deaths per 100,000 white residents
  • 8 deaths per 100,000 Asian residents
  • 10 deaths per 100,000 Latino residents
  • 13 deaths per 100,000 African American residents
  • 71 deaths per 100,000 Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander residents

County demographers also looked at the race and ethnicity of a little more than half of the people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county (this data was missing for 45% of cases and excludes Pasadena and Long Beach cases). They also adjusted for differences in age distribution, and found:

  • 50 cases per 100,000 American Indian or Alaska Native residents
  • 73 cases per 100,000 Asian residents
  • 78 cases per 100,000 white residents
  • 102 cases per 100,000 African American residents
  • 114 cases per 100,000 Latino residents
  • 840 cases per 100,000 Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander residents

The report also shows that Latinos have had a relatively low share of confirmed COVID-19 cases among people over age 65 but the highest percentage of cases among people under 18 years of age. "Although small, this percentage was almost twice as high as the percent of cases under age 18 among whites and African Americans and three times higher than among Asians," according to the report.
Statewide, Latinos make up 76% of confirmed COVID-19 cases among people under 18 years old (Latinos make up 48% of California's under-18 population).

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MOVING FORWARD

The report also includes a roadmap for addressing disparities in testing and access to treatment for COVID-19. Among the recommendations:

  • Make testing available in medical and non-medical settings in communities hardest hit by the pandemic, and expand beyond sites that require online registration
  • Make sure highly impacted communities have the latest information on treatment and ensuring access to participation in clinical trials
  • Work with community partners to ensure there are housing options for people who test positive for COVID-19 and live in crowded conditions
  • Work with trusted community leaders and ethnic media to communicate public health messages

Alyssa Jeong Perry contributed to this report.

READ THE FULL REPORT: