Early data show higher COVID-19 death rate for African Americans in L.A. County

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Drive-through testing for COVID-19 began Wednesday morning at Willowbrook’s Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, which will also start analyzing demographic data to enhance Los Angeles County’s response to the pandemic in underserved communities.

RELATED: Here’s a map of COVID-19 testing sites in L.A. County

On Tuesday, officials released partial data on the racial breakdown of the COVID-19 outbreak in the region: The race or ethnicity is so far known in 57% of deaths and 43% of confirmed cases. (This excludes the five deaths and 302 cases reported by Long Beach and Pasadena, which run their own health agencies.)

Out of 93 patients who died and whose race or ethnicity was reported, 17% were African American — a disproportionate number considering less than 10% of confirmed cases involve black patients, and that African Americans only consist 9% of the county’s population.

Meanwhile, among patients whose ethnicity or race was reported, Latinos consist 28% of those who died and 25% of the cases. The group makes up about 48.6% of the county’s population.

Of the patients who died and whose race was known, 19% were Asian and 27% were white. Asian residents make up about 15% of the county’s population, while white residents make up about 26%.

The number of confirmed cases has been linked to the availability of testing.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s top health official, said that testing occurs “much less” in poorer communities.

“People who are living in wealthier communities have had, in fact, better access to testing and in fact have been tested more than people who are living in communities where income levels are much lower,” she said.

L.A. County disclosed the following data on deaths and confirmed cases as of Tuesday:

Race/ethnicityDeathsConfirmed casesL.A. County population
Asian18 31615%
Under investigation713,711

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on Tuesday also recognized that, “like many things in our society,” the outbreak has had a disproportionate effect on communities of color, where there’s a prevalence of preexisting conditions that put COVID-19 patients at a higher risk. He stressed, however, that the outbreak is a threat to everyone.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has also said that black people in many communities across the nation appear to be dying at “an alarmingly high rate.”

With racial disparity evident in preliminary data on coronavirus deaths in Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey, Adams suggested that officials begin tracking infections by demographic groups.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said California has not seen the same disparity reported in other states, but he stressed that racial data is currently available for only 37.2% of cases. California officials plan to ramp up efforts to collect that information, Newsom said.

In L.A. County, Charles R. Drew University—a designated Historically Black Graduate Institution that awarded 377 degrees and certificates in 2018—will start systematically recording and analyzing racial data in the region.

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas attended the opening of the South L.A. testing site on Wednesday.

“The data is preliminary, but as it stands, it shows that there may be a trend toward disproportionality,” he told KTLA. “That is precisely what we need to know. If you don’t collect the data, you don’t know that. Therefore, you don’t know where to aim the resources and the appropriate level of attention.”

University president Dr. David Carlisle described the new effort in the outbreak “an extremely important development,” saying that there had been “no accessible testing sites in many of these communities, despite knowing how critical testing is to helping to ‘flatten the curve’ of this disease.”

The testing site in Willowbrook plans to administer at least 120 tests a day, seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Another testing location also opened Wednesday at East L.A. College, which aims to test 250 people a day and will also be available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the week.

Those who want to make an appointment can call 2-1-1 or register through the county’s website.

The Willowbrook site will take walk-ups as well, said the president of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

Correction: A previous version of this story provided an incorrect number for the percentage of confirmed cases among African Americans and the percentage of Latinos in L.A. County. This post has been updated.

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