The True Story of COVID-19 in LA Must be Confirmed by a Lot More Testing

Bill Boyarsky
Columnist for LA Observed and former reporter, editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Times

Who is suffering most from coronavirus in Los Angeles County?  The affluent or the poor? Whites or people of color?  

The answers to these questions are to be found through a rigorous but now inadequate system of testing. Such a system is necessary for identifying and isolating those who have been infected with the disease and may  have spread it to others. It is also a key to contact others, and for understanding how deeply the outbreak has reached into the county. Only with widespread testing will authorities know where to marshal their resources.  

So far, it appears that African Americans are the hardest hit, probably because they come into contact with a wide range of the public through jobs like bus and cab driving, housekeeping, home care, serving as nursing home aides, and retail clerking, delivery and shelf stocking.

The Washington Post said COVID-19 appears to be infecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate, according to the paper’s analysis of early data from jurisdictions across the country. 

Los Angeles County reported more than 12,000 cases and over 500 deaths with   African Americans accounting for a disproportionately large number of the fatalities. Deaths.

The Los Angeles Times reported that African Americans accounted for 17 percent of Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 deaths but comprise just nine per cent of the county’s population. In comparison, the paper said, Latinos accounted for 28 percent of the deaths while having almost 50 percent of the population and Asian Americans had 19 percent while amounting to 14 percent of those living in the county.   Whites, with 26 percent of the population, accounted for 27 percent of the deaths. The data was based on 57 percent of reported deaths.

In addition, USC’s respected data-analyzing program Crosstown found strong indications that African Americans, who have a higher percentage of low income people than whites, were being left out of the county coronavirus testing program. That means county officials may be underestimating the impact of the virus on poorer minority neighborhoods. 

By comparing county testing numbers with demographic figures, the crosstown researchers discovered the surprising discrepancy that that the most affluent areas had the most reported cases of coronavirus.  That didn’t mean they were sicker, researchers said, but that they had better access to testing.

The densest cluster of cases in the county is the upper middle class Fairfax district, at 724 per 100,000.   Other figures from affluent neighborhoods per 100,000: Beverlywood, 334; Bel Air 295, West Los Angeles, 284; Beverly Hills, 226. 

The test results from poorer, predominantly African American and Latino areas tell a different story.  They include, per 100,000: Jefferson Park, 19; Florence, 129; Pico Union, 176; South Central Los Angeles, 111; Pacoima, 91.

The USC researchers said,   “The numbers raise a question that is as much about wealth disparity as it is about health: Does the data show who is infected or who can afford to get tested?”

USC Professor Robynn Cox told Crosstown, “One thing we do know is that there is a lot of selection with who is and isn’t tested, which are driving the numbers we see now. The larger numbers in affluent communities may be a result of the ability to pay a higher price to obtain testing.”

The Los Angeles Times made a similar finding.  The paper said “many of Los Angeles County’s whitest and wealthiest enclaves are reporting far higher rates of infestation than neighborhoods of color…. The highest rates thus far have come from predominantly white, affluent areas on the Westside,” the paper reported. “Experts say this is likely skewed   by uneven access to testing, and in some instances by wealthy residents who traveled internationally.”

Free testing centers are scarce in poor African American and Latino neighborhoods, and hard to reach for people who may not have cars and who depend on public transportation. 

County authorities listed 30 test facilities as of April 17 and seven of them were in South Los Angeles and other central L.A. locations with poor residents.

They are widely scattered and tests are limited to county residents with COVID-19 symptoms who are in the 65-plus category with high-risk health conditions.  Health care workers, firefighter, police officers and others in risky occupations can get tests at their work places.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti took note of the situation at a testing facility at the Crenshaw Christian Center, located in the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw area where the infection rate, the USC researchers found, is 125 per 100,000. He said Los Angeles County now could test 11,000 people per day — meaning everyone who needs a test can get tested the same or next day.

But for poor people, particularly African Americans, free tests are limited to those fortunate to locate a testing center, have transportation to get there and are eligible for a test. 

Garcetti’s words are not enough.  He and county authorities must team up to open more testing centers in neglected communities so their residents can get access to medical care they need.  

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.