As coronavirus kills more black residents, L.A. County official says racism has had a ‘devastating’ impact on health

Local News

As protests continued throughout Los Angeles County over longstanding issues of police brutality against black people, the county’s public health director on Friday highlighted how racial inequities have had a “devastating” impact on the health of people of color amid the pandemic.

From the start, the coronavirus has disproportionately killed black L.A. County residents.

For every 100,000 people in each racial group, the coronavirus killed 31 African American residents, 30 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, 29 Latinos and 21 Asians. For white residents, the death rate is 15 per 100,000 people.

But the inequity is nothing new, according to health director Barbara Ferrer.

“It starts at the beginning of life, when black babies are three to four times more likely to die before they reach their first birthday,” she said. “And at the very end of life, when black residents die on average, six to 10 years younger than all others.”

So far, the county has recorded 61,045 coronavirus cases and 2,565 deaths attributed to the respiratory illness.

She said if the coronavirus had impacted all races the same as it did white residents, 754 people would not have died in the county.

Ferrer said the numbers “starkly show how inequities have a life and death consequence,” and called for change.

“We must look at the structures systems and practices in our society to understand the root cause of these inequities, which really have much to do with a long history of institutional racism, and that’s resulted in and continues to result in fewer resources and opportunities that are needed for optimal health and well being,” Ferrer said.

The health department put out a statement earlier this week that drew connection between police brutality and health, saying science has shown that stress associated with acts of discrimination plays a role in a person’s wellbeing.

“It’s not just the direct victim of violence…who pays the price for brutality. It is an entire community that lives with the fear that next time it could be them, or their son or daughter, neighbor or friend,” the department said.

One of the ways the county’s health officials have been trying to close the gaps is by standing up coronavirus testing sites in underserved communities. As of Friday, there were 73 coronavirus testing sites in the county, including ones at CVS pharmacies and local clinics.

Testing sites shuttered amid massive protests throughout the county reopened Friday. About half of the sites were closed earlier this week, with only two still open within the city of L.A., including the screening center at Dodger Stadium.

Health experts across the state have continued to sound the alarm on large gatherings and warned that the use of tear gas on protestors is likely to contribute to the spread of the respiratory illness.

“I want to thank everyone who’s been on the frontlines this last week, standing to end racism and oppression,” Ferrer said, going on to provide advice for those who think they may have been exposed to the virus at the demonstrations.

Since standing next to others not wearing masks for at least 15 minutes may expose a person to the virus, Ferrer said it’s important that those who think they were exposed stay home and away from others for at least 14 days after that, and reminded residents that they would likely test negative for the coronavirus if they quickly got tested right after being exposed.

She said making sure you’re standing next to people who are wearing face coverings is the best thing to do while out in that crowded situation.

“Take this as an opportunity to respect others, and take care of others by wearing your cloth face covering whenever you’re in close contact with anyone, and keeping your distance as much as possible,” she said. “We do need to continue to take these actions, so that we can prevent other people from becoming infected with COVID-19. These actions are the kind thing to do and they save lives.”

Ferrer has said she expects it will take three to four weeks for new transmissions from the recent large gatherings to show.

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"I think it’s important to comment on the connection between these two concerns, the death of a Black man at the hands of police and the experience of COVID-19 in L.A. County. We know that Black Americans fare worse than other groups on virtually every measure of health status, and it has become all too common to blame this on individual behaviors when in fact the science is clear: the root cause of health inequities is racism and discrimination and how it limits access to the very opportunities and resources each of us need for optimal health and well-being. Science also tells us that a lifetime of stress associated with the experiences of daily acts of discrimination and oppression play a major role. It starts at birth with higher rates of Black infant mortality and shockingly higher rates of maternal mortality among Black women and extends to adulthood, when we see Black residents in L.A. County experiencing earlier onset of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes and earlier deaths. When I report each week that we have seen elevated numbers of Black deaths in this county due to COVID-19, I am reporting on the consequences of these inequities. And it’s not just the direct victim of violence who pays the price for brutality. It is an entire community that lives with the fear that next time it could be them, or their son or daughter, neighbor or friend. It is the consequence of that fear that we are seeing when we report instance after instance of inequality in health outcomes." Dr. Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, Med, Director of Public Health

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