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Disparities leave parts of LA County hard hit by COVID-19

Two years into the pandemic, wealth, poverty and race are still significantly affecting the toll of the coronavirus on people, with Latino and black communities in LA County continuing to be much harder hit than wealthier whites. .

Data analyzed by Los Angeles County public health officials showed disturbing inequities in the disproportionate toll COVID-19 was taking on black and Latino residents, as well as people living in the poorest neighborhoods.

The findings underscore how poorer and largely Black and Latino neighborhoods in LA County could suffer if improving pandemic trends suddenly reverse as mask mandates ease, or if the need for quick action occurs if a new variant emerges.

“These data on hospitalizations and deaths are alarming,” LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said at a meeting of the oversight board on Tuesday. “We must ensure that our post-surge actions do not worsen the gaps by not providing additional resources and protections to those most at risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Between Jan. 29 and Feb. 11, for every 100,000 unvaccinated residents in each racial or ethnic group, 74 Latino residents and 60 Black residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, while 43 white residents and 30 Asian American residents have been.

In other words, unvaccinated Latino and Black residents are at least twice as likely as unvaccinated Asian American Angelenos to be hospitalized with COVID-19.

These racial and ethnic disparities persisted even among those vaccinated who received their boosters. For every 100,000 residents vaccinated and boosted, 13 Latinos and 11 Blacks were hospitalized, while five white residents and three Asian American residents were hospitalized.

“These differences partly reflect higher rates of underlying health conditions among Black and Brown residents due to insufficient access to health-supportive resources. And they’re also likely to reflect differences in exposure to COVID based on where individuals live and work,” Ferrer said. “Regardless of vaccination status, living in an area of ​​high poverty was associated with a significantly higher risk of hospitalization.”

Many black and Latino residents, as well as low-income residents, of LA County live in areas with less access to resources such as hospitals and pharmacies.

“It’s really clear that where you live and where you work has an impact on your health. It’s no different for COVID than it is for a host of other diseases,” Ferrer said during a briefing last week. “Certainly where you live has a huge impact on what’s available to help you be as healthy as possible.”

Many Latino and Black residents live in areas where government officials for generations have neglected the public health of residents, in part due to a legacy of racism and discrimination. Neighborhoods such as South LA, Southeast LA County, and the Eastside are blanketed in a web of freeways spewing toxic pollution, increasing the risk of asthma and other chronic illnesses that put these residents at risk. an increased risk of complications from COVID-19.

Residents who live in crowded housing, where it’s easier for a highly infectious, airborne virus to spread, are also more vulnerable to COVID-19. Additionally, many low-income residents, as well as Black and Latino residents, must physically leave their homes to work in front-line jobs, where the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus is higher.

People living in more affluent areas, on the other hand, have enjoyed a number of benefits during the pandemic: better access to hospitals, a greater chance of living in less crowded homes, and cleaner air thanks to the lack of nearby freeways (Beverly Hills and South Pasadena memorably fought off building freeways through their cities).

These systemic and structural issues with living in a location close to freeways can quickly worsen COVID-19 outcomes. For example, air pollution can make asthma symptoms worse. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, black, Latino, and Native American residents of the country are more likely to have asthma. And people with asthma are at higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19, Ferrer said.

Disturbing disparities have also been seen in deaths from COVID-19. Between Jan. 23 and Feb. 5, for every 100,000 unvaccinated residents in each racial and ethnic group, 47 Latino residents died, compared to 32 white residents, 22 black residents and 16 Asian American residents.

Of those vaccinated and boosted, per 100,000 people, three Latino residents and two black residents died, compared to one each among white and Asian American residents.

There were also startling COVID-19 disparities based on socioeconomic status and where people lived. From Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, for every 100,000 unvaccinated residents divided into groups by their area’s poverty status, eight people living in the county’s wealthiest areas died, compared to 76 in the county’s poorest areas.

And even among vaccinated and boosted residents, disparities remained: for every 100,000 residents, one died in the wealthiest neighborhoods, while three died in the poorest neighborhoods.

“It is clear that living in areas of high poverty puts people at higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19,” Ferrer said. “Despite the strong protection offered by vaccines, getting vaccinated alone has not been an equalizer for people living in areas of high poverty. Where people live and work clearly has a huge impact on their risk of exposure and the availability of health-promoting resources.

The differing effects of COVID-19 on black and brown communities, as well as low-income areas, likely help explain the dynamics of the LA County Board of Supervisors, which has been divided over how quickly to lift the warrant. of indoor masks in the country. most populous county.

Of the five supervisors, Hilda Solis and Holly Mitchell — the only Latino and Black representatives, respectively — have in recent weeks supported efforts to keep the county’s mask mandate in place for a few more weeks, and have regularly expressed their concerns about the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on their constituents. Solis and Mitchell were elected in districts that have the highest poverty rates and the lowest median household income, according to an analysis released by the LA County Economic Development Corp. in 2017.

A third supervisor who supported a slower lifting of mask mandates, Sheila Kuehl, was elected in a district that has a poverty rate and median household income between the richest and poorest districts.

In contrast, supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn were elected in districts with the lowest poverty rates and the highest median household income. Both have spoken out on easing mask mandates to be as lenient as the state allows. They say they receive many complaints from residents who want mask mandates lifted more quickly.

Los Angeles Times

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