As a potent new coronavirus continues its lethal spread across California, many of Los Angeles County’s whitest and wealthiest enclaves are reporting far higher rates of infection than are poorer neighborhoods of color.
Predominantly white, affluent areas such as Hancock Park, Bel-Air, Beverly Crest and Brentwood reported some of the highest per capita rates of confirmed cases, while many working-class and majority nonwhite communities such as Bell Gardens, Watts and El Monte reported much lower rates, a Times analysis of county health data through Wednesday shows.
But those disparities do not mean the virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading more widely through rich neighborhoods than in poorer ones, public health officials and experts say. Rather, they are probably skewed by uneven access to testing and, in some instances, by wealthy residents who traveled internationally and had some of the earliest confirmed infections.
The trend, some experts say, bodes poorly for local efforts to control the spread of COVID-19, as it suggests a troubling disparity of testing along the lines of race, income and immigration status. They say a lack of adequate testing in lower-income areas threatens to give residents there the false and potentially deadly impression that they have less to fear from the pathogen, and hence little reason to heed physical distancing orders.
“There’s a lot of misinformation and indifference in the black community,” said Sadio Woods, an Inglewood resident who sought unsuccessfully to be tested for COVID-19, only to be told later by a doctor that she probably had the disease but recovered. “There’s this narrative it’s a rich, white man’s disease. They travel. They are the ones who are spreading this disease all around to each other.”
Nationally, cities with large black and Latino populations such as Chicago, New Orleans and New York have become hot spots in the spread of the coronavirus. Worried that race and income are playing a role in these outbreaks, California Sen. Kamala Harris and a group of fellow Democratic lawmakers have urged health officials to record comprehensive demographic data on those tested and treated for the disease — information that is now almost nonexistent.
“This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
In Los Angeles County, more than 21,000 people have been tested for the coronavirus, and roughly 12% have tested positive. However, the county does not track the location of all negative tests, so it is impossible to determine whether tests are being given equally across the county.
On Wednesday, county health officials said they were “aware of geographic disparities” in testing and are now asking labs to report negative results along with positive results, “so we have a full picture of what is happening.”
“Our hope is that we’re paying attention to some of the areas where in fact we know there has been less testing,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
A lack of accurate and readily available test kits has hampered the response to COVID-19 since the first cases appeared in the United States, making it all but impossible for local officials to track and slow the outbreak. Ferrer said it remains difficult for most symptomatic residents to get tested for COVID-19.
“You still need a provider to write an order for the most part, and I think some people in some communities may have easier access to a provider that is willing to just write that lab order than others,” Ferrer said. “So I do think there is an issue still about who is getting tested and who is not getting tested.”
Wealth, she said, could play a role in both the spread and detection of disease, although it was unclear to what extent.
In the weeks before the novel coronavirus hit the county, some residents of Brentwood and West Hollywood were infected while traveling in Europe and brought the virus home, creating a “cluster effect,” Ferrer said. “I do know with certainty that in the beginning we had a lot of travel-related positives, and that those tended to be more people who were traveling for vacation, which would imply that they’re wealthier.”
The Times also reported last month that “concierge” doctors who cater to rich people and celebrities have been selling testing kits to patients and their families. The doctors are based in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, wealthy areas that rank high in the county for infection rates.
Ferrer said it’s too early to know if these types of exclusive medical services have had an effect on the confirmed case totals, and she stressed that people are transmitting the virus in every community.
When comparing communities, county health officials emphasized the importance of looking at the rate of cases per capita, rather than the total number of cases. They began publicly reporting those rates this week.
“The place that had fewer cases might actually have a higher burden of disease relative to the number of people in that community,” Ferrer said.
For example, the county health department has reported that the wealthy enclave of Beverly Crest has recorded 22 total infections for a rate of 177 per 100,000 people, compared with the larger working-class neighborhood of Pacoima that has a rate of less than 10 per 100,000.
Nickie Miner, a longtime resident of Beverly Crest, bristles at the idea that residents of wealthier areas have easier access to testing and said hillside communities might actually be safer because of their tucked-away locations. Her neighbors, she said, are following city guidelines that urge residents to stay home and avoid nonessential travel.
“It’s somehow targeting the ‘elite,’ as people like to say, for having better healthcare whether they do or not,” said Miner, vice president of the Bel-Air/Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council. “I think the whole situation is universal and we’re all in this together. It really doesn’t matter if you isolate a wealthy segment or a working-class segment.”
About 17 miles southeast in Bell Gardens, a 95% Latino city with one of the lowest rates of reported coronavirus cases in the county, Mayor Alejandra Cortez said she suspects the disparity is a result of a lack of access to healthcare and “the fact that not a lot of people have been tested.”
“People have been turned away from testing until they develop further symptoms,” Cortez said. “I think that contributes to the low number of cases.”
In a letter last week, Cortez and leaders from 15 neighboring communities in southeast L.A. County urged the county to set up drive-through testing sites in the area, citing its large percentage of low-income Latino families and high population densities “which in some cities exceed that of New York City.”
Cortez said reducing barriers to testing is especially important in communities like hers with large numbers of people whose lack of legal immigration status and health insurance can be a deterrent to seeking care.
“Making testing more accessible and less intimidating for our community, I think that’s one way to have people come out,” she said. Area hospitals have already reported a lot of cases, she added, “so I know people are scared to even go to these hospitals to be tested, because they think they’re going to get it just from entering the facility.”
These are some of the unusual new scenes across the Southland during the coronavirus outbreak.
A woman who answered the phone at a local clinic, the Bell Gardens Family Medical Center, said the facility isn’t offering COVID-19 testing, though people are calling to request it. She said workers there have been told to send those people to county hospitals, and though they are trying to get test kits, they’re not sure how or when that will happen.
There is variation in the data, as some middle-class communities also have higher infection rates. West Hollywood currently has the second-highest rate in the county at 179 cases per 100,000 residents, but its median income is about average for the county.
Given the city’s long-running initiatives regarding testing for sexually transmitted diseases, residents in West Hollywood are quicker to seek testing for COVID-19, city spokeswoman Lisa Belsanti said.
“We certainly have a population that was disproportionately affected by HIV back in the early days, and still HIV has not been eradicated,” she said. “You could make that correlation that people with preexisting conditions, people who are HIV-positive might seek out early testing if they had symptoms.”
Though testing capacity has improved since the coronavirus outbreak began, it remains spotty and incomplete, with California lagging far behind New York in the number of people tested despite having about double the population.
Some point to the geographic divide in confirmed cases as evidence that our understanding of the virus’ spread is twisted by social inequality. Victor Cuevas, an urban planner from Mount Washington who has created his own county coronavirus maps, said he is concerned that insufficient testing in lower-income Latino communities is already having a dangerous effect.
Socially distanced bikers and walkers, against a backdrop of the Queen Mary, make their way along pedestrian and beach bike path on the first day that Long Beach reopened the path on Monday May 11, 2020. The city of Long Beach eased a few of its public health restrictions, allowing under certain guidelines the reopening of pedestrian and beach bike paths, tennis centers and courts. Beach bathrooms are also reopening, but the parking lots and beaches still remain closed. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
Traffic remains light on the southbound 110 Freeway headed toward downtown Los Angeles on April 28. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dominique Barrett, center, known as “King Vader” to his 2.4 million TikTok followers, prepares to shoot a video on April 30 in Glendora. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
Cody Purcell of Redondo Beach rides a wave, glowing from the bioluminescence, in Hermosa Beach, CA, after midnight Friday morning, May 8. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)
Friends play spikeball, a game perfect for social distancing on an open but restricted San Buenaventura State Beach. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
The majority of golfers are wearing masks while hitting balls on the driving range at Van Buren Executive Golf Course in Riverside. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Beaches including Harbor Cove Beach were open but beachgoers were not supposed to be sitting on the sand. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Tango instructor Yelizaveta Nersesova leads a Zoom tango event from her Los Angeles home April 27 that brought together hundreds of dancers from around the world. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Grocery store workers, joined by United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 770 representatives and community members, hold a rally in support of strict social distancing on May 1 at a Ralphs store in Hollywood where 19 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Mostly masked commuters keep their distance from one another on a Metro bus in downtown Los Angeles on April 29. (Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)
Gregory Kuhl, 69, heads home after a shopping trip in Hollywood on April 28. Big cracks in the street, cars parked in driveways blocking sidewalks and uneven pavement levels make navigating his route difficult. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
Tenants and their supporters from across Los Angeles gather at city hall to call on L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, the L.A. City Council and California Gov. Gavin Newsom to cancel rent and mortgage payments during the COVID-19 crisis. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Aerial view of over 100 vehicles lined up at the West Valley COVID-19 testing center at Warner Center in Woodland Hills. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Senior Mason Wise, left, helps his sister, Mackenzie, a sophomore, clean out her PE locker at El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills. School officials were allowing no more than five students at a time on campus to take home their belongings. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Shuttered storefront businesses in the garment district of Los Angeles. California’s unemployment rate has skyrocketed since the statewide coronavirus shutdown took effect. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Healthcare workers celebrate as Claudia Martinez is discharged from the ICU after she recovered from COVID-19 at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Carson residents Kaeli Burks, 3, left, and her cousin Bailey Watson, 5, look out the window of their car after their mothers helped them with self-testing at a new drive-up testing site for COVID-19 in Carson. Free COVID-19 testing is available to all city residents thanks to a partnership between the city and US Health Fairs. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Norm and Tracy Kahn enjoy eating dinner outside on a small cafe table sitting in blue chairs on their side yard during the coronavirus pandemic on April 27 in Riverside. “During this pandemic, eating outside offers us an opportunity to change surrounding and appreciate the calmness of being outdoors among trees, scents from nature and the sounds of birds,” she said. Also adding, “Mixing up where we eat puts variety into our days and takes away the sameness of feeling trapped at home.” (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center nurses carry supplies outside the hospital. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Tom Sean Foley pauses on a walk with his kids, Cathelen Claire, “C.C.,” 3, and Timothy Joseph, 4, to take a photo in front of the “Love Wall,” mural by artist Curtis Kulig, outside of Smashbox Studios in Culver City. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Protesters stand along Mission Blvd. in Pacific Beach during A Day of Liberty rally on April 26. The protesters were against the government shutdown due to the coronavirus. (K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)
People make orders at a food truck along Shoreline Avenue in Long Beach. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Medical staff, wearing protective gear, work inside a COVID-19 isolation area inside the emergency department at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center in Los Angeles, where patients with the virus are being treated. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Neighbors practice social distancing while enjoying the nice weather near The Strand in Hermosa Beach. (Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)
Counter-protesters attend a protest to call on state and local officials to reopen the economy in downtown Los Angeles. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
A group of protesters cheer on cars during a vehicle caravan protest to call on state and local officials to reopen the economy in downtown Los Angeles. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
Cedar Mountain Post Acute Rehabilitation staff member Navi Cavaltera waters a flower pot put up by the community to show their support for the nursing staff of the facility in Yucaipa. Eighteen of 20 coronavirus-related deaths in Yucaipa were residents of the skilled nursing facility. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A pedestrian wearing a protective mask passes a mural on a store on Melrose Avenue in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Jonte Florence, a freestyle dancer, does a handstand on a mostly empty Hollywood Walk of Fame. Florence said he normally performs for hundreds of tourists along the busy street. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The Tyrannosaurus rex overlooking the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue wears a protective mask while practicing social distancing. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Businesses are shuttered and pedestrians are few and far between on Hollywood Boulevard. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Daniel Rogerson wears a vintage military gas mask while riding a bike along the beach path in Santa Monica, which is closed to enforce social distancing because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A face mask seller in colorful dress appears to be part of a mural behind a bus stop on Soto Street in Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Life around Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard and Soto Street has slowed down as California officials extended stay-at-home orders into May and residents entered Easter weekend with unprecedented limits on their movements. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
UC Irvine Medical Center health care workers return their gratitude as about 25 Orange County first responder vehicles participate in a drive-by parade of gratitude as they battle COVID-19 at the hospital. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Billy Budd, 55, of Hollywood, walks along Hollywood Boulevard with a protective face covering. Budd is a scenic artist for movies and television who is currently out of work due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Stuart Reyes and his sister, Stephanie, sell masks for $5 each on the 3000 block of West Century Boulevard in Inglewood. Stuart Reyes said he is selling masks to support his mother. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A jogger runs on a closed trail past dozens of pieces of caution tape, torn off by hikers and mountain bikers at El Escorpion Canyon Park in West Hills. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Alex Herron and nurse Mercy Pineda at a blood drive sponsored by USC athletics and the American Red Cross at USC’s Galen Center. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles City Hall displays blue lights to show support for healthcare workers and first responders. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
After being indoors for several days because of rainy weather and coronavirus stay-at-home orders, Olivia Jacobs, 4, and her mom, Cia Jacobs, enjoy a warm and sunny afternoon making chalk drawings on the sidewalk in front of their home in West Hills. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
An Oceanview Plaza security guard sports a whimsical mask while on patrol. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Jacob De Wilde, left, and Lesli Lytle load a car with food during a food distribution organized to mark Good Friday. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
As a late season storm continues to make its way across the Southland, a young basketball player dribbles along an alley through an Elysian Park neighborhood in Los Angeles. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
People are silhouetted in a window of an apartment building in Hollywood, where a stay-at-home order remains in effect to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
The Wilshire Grand Center display blue lights and a heart to show support for healthcare workers and first responders. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Women wear masks as they stroll along Highland Avenue in Hollywood. Wearing masks while outdoors is mandatory in the city of Los Angeles. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Patients are removed from Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center after 39 tested positive for the coronavirus and nursing staff was not showing up to work. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
A specimen is turned in at the new mobile testing site for people with symptoms of the coronavirus at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in South Los Angeles. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
Hippie Kitchen in Los Angeles hands out food, water and toiletries to homeless people and residents of skid row. Additionally, masks were offered to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Nurses pose for a fun photo during a break in drive-through public testing for the coronavirus at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A woman shows a notice from her doctor that allows her to obtain a test for coronavirus at a new drive-up testing site in a parking lot at the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A person who wishes to remain anonymous strikes from her car to support McDonald’s employees who are demanding the company cover healthcare costs of any worker or immediate family member who gets sick from COVID-19 in Los Angeles. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
Cassidy Roosen, with Beach Cities Health District, holds up a sign that says, “We’re All in This Together,” while waiting to direct cars at a drive-through, appointment-only coronavirus testing location at the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Juliann Hartman, center, and her husband, Butch, wave signs they created to cheer up people on Calabasas Road in Calabasas during the pandemic. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Grace Carter, 15, of Riverside, practices a dance routine at home after dance classes and school were canceled. She has to use the Zoom app on her iPhone to practice with her dance group. “It’s hard,” she said. “My bedroom is a smaller space. I miss all my friends at the studio.” (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
A man works from his home in Long Beach. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A San Bernardino County healthcare worker takes a sample at a coronavirus drive-through testing site at the county fairgrounds in Victorville. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A Metro general service employee disinfects a bench in Boyle Heights. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A runner jogs past the Pottery Barn in Pasadena. Some businesses in the area have boarded up their stores. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Raquel Lezama and daughter Monica Ramos collect meals for their family at Manual Arts High School. Lezama was laid off from her $17.76-an-hour job at a Beverly Hills hotel. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
The Iron City Tavern in San Pedro tries an incentive to lure takeout customers. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Healthcare workers gather outside UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center to call for further action from the federal government in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Kristen Edgerle, of Victorville, collects information from a blood donor before drawing blood at The Richard Nixon Presidential Library blood drive during the coronavirus pandemic in Yorba Linda. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Shauna Jin, of Los Angeles, with her dog, Bodhi, practices social distancing with John Kiss, of Los Angeles, at the entrance of Runyon Canyon Park in Los Angeles. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A lending library had some additional useful items, including a roll of toilet paper and cans of beans and corn, in a Hermosa Beach neighborhood. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Protesters drive by the Getty House, the home of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, in Hancock Park. Tenant advocates are demanding a total moratorium on evictions during the coronavirus crisis. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Venice residents Emily Berry and Gavin Kelley take a break at Venice Beach. Berry, a cocktail waitress at Enterprise Fish Co., lost her job due to the coronavirus outbreak. Kelley, a manager at a performing arts school with a focus on music, said that he still has a job and that classes at the school will resume online this coming Monday. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
The JW Marriott at L.A. Live is sharing a message of hope with red lights in 34 windows, creating a 19-story display on the hotel’s north side. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Juan Diaz Jr., a lifelong Dodgers fan, prays that the season will start by May in front of Dodger Stadium on what would have been opening day. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Hayley, CEO and founder of Love My Neighbor Foundation, right, dances with Crystal Armster, 51, while she and her colleagues continue to feed the homeless on skid row amid the pandemic. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A masked passenger on a Metro bus in downtown Los Angeles. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dede Oneal waits for a coronavirus test at the Crenshaw Christian Center in South Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A man in a mask passes a closed restaurant along Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Artist Corie Mattie paints a mural on the side of a pop-up store as a man takes a picture in West Hollywood. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Medical assistant Zoila Villalta works with Rosie Boston, 32, of Glendale, who is donating blood for her first time at L.A. Care Health Plan downtown. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
A couple wait for a bus outside the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
With all Los Angeles schools closed until further notice, LAUSD buses sit idle in Gardena. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
A lone traveler makes his way to catch a flight in Tom Bradley International Terminal. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Denise Young looks on as her daughter, Allison, 9, a fourth-grader at EARThS (Environmental Academy of Research Technology and Earth Sciences) Magnet School in Newbury Park, receives a Chromebook. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Hollywood Boulevard is devoid of the usual crowds. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Michael Ray, 11, plays before a movie at the Paramount Drive-In. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Isabella Leader, 15, counts how many flags have been left for World War II veteran Lt. Col. Sam Sachs who was celebrating his 105th birthday at the Mom & Dad’s House, an assisted living facility, in Lakewood. Lt. Col. Sachs appealed to the public for birthday cards after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of a big celebration and wound up receiving thousands, including a letter and photo from President Trump. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
“I’m telling my parents who live in the northeast Valley to stay home, but they have neighbors not taking it seriously, saying, ‘We’re OK, there’s no cases here in Pacoima,’” Cuevas said.
Ferrer said that, because of the lack of testing, it would be a “really, really erroneous assumption” to think that the number of cases reported in any given community is reflective of how many it actually has.
“There are thousands of people who are positive for COVID-19 that have not been tested, don’t necessarily know that they’re positive. They may have mild illness, they may be fairly asymptomatic,” Ferrer said. “There are people in every community that have the potential to infect others. And you could be one of them that’s infecting others. Or you could be one of them that’s getting infected.”
One of the lowest rates of confirmed cases is in Pomona on L.A. County’s eastern edge. Resident Dwight Pennington said that could be because the city experienced the county’s first COVID-19 fatality — that of a patient who died after being brought in by ambulance in full cardiac arrest, Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center announced March 9.
“I think people got the message because it was in our own backyard,” said Pennington, 27. But he thinks, based on personal experience, that Pomona’s low numbers could also be due to lack of testing.
Pennington, who works as a wellness advocate for the Tri-City Mental Health Center, recently tried to get tested for COVID-19 because he had developed a cough, but he was told by his primary doctor and three urgent care facilities that they didn’t have test kits. He said he would’ve kept calling more hospitals if there was a guarantee they’d have the kits.
Though Pennington said he’s confident he doesn’t have the virus, he remembers the experience as “really nerve-racking.”
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Chandra Ford, professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said there is probably “testing bias” in the data because tests haven’t been equally available across the county.
As more people get tested in the coming months, areas with greater shares of homeless people and uninsured workers will see infection rates rise disproportionately, she said.
“Over the long run, the population of people who were missed are likely to be the most vulnerable members of our society,” said Ford, founding director of the Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice and Health at UCLA. “I expect what we will see is the nature of the epidemic in Southern California will actually shift, where these vulnerable populations will account for a greater share of the new cases.”
University of Minnesota epidemiologist Ryan Demmer said the available data on current infections at the neighborhood level here reflect a broader nationwide trend of healthcare access.
“More affluence is usually linked to a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with a chronic disease if the disease is actually present,” Demmer said.
Still, focusing on confirmed cases can be misleading in the first place because so many people have been unable to get tested, according to health experts. A much better indicator of the outbreak’s spread, they say, is the number of deaths and hospitalizations, including how many people end up in intensive care units.
L.A. County Department of Public Health data show the number of people who have died or been hospitalized with the virus has risen in recent days, but those figures are not broken down beyond the county level.
Back in Inglewood, where the rate of infection has been reported as 32 cases per 100,000 people, Woods said she has little faith in the accuracy of recent statistics, “because I know that people are not being tested widespread.”
She worries a that long-standing mistrust of the healthcare system and other barriers play a role in the nonchalance she has seen in the black community. Men in her neighborhood still cluster on the corners. Teens ride their bikes in groups. Her neighbors are still gathering and partying. Very few people are wearing gloves or masks. There’s hardly any social distancing happening.
“I know what happens in low-income, underserved communities and communities of color,” she said. “It could be like New Orleans. I’m afraid for South L.A.”
She worries that people’s behavior will not change until they know somebody who has tested positive. By then, it might be too late and disease could be rampant in the community.
The coronavirus has already touched Woods in more ways than one. On Tuesday, she spoke of a family friend — a black man from South L.A. — who was fighting for his life after contracting the virus along with dozens of other black people after going on a ski trip to Idaho.
Later that day, Woods learned that the coronavirus had claimed his life.
Times staff writers Soumya Karlamangla, Ryan Menezes, Ben Welsh and Priscella Vega contributed to this report.
Tony Barboza is an editorial writer focusing on climate change and environmental justice. Before joining the editorial board in November 2021, he worked for 15 years as a news reporter for the Times’ California section, covering air quality, climate change, environmental health and other topics. Barboza was born and raised in Colorado and is a graduate of Pomona College.
As assistant managing editor for culture and talent, Angel Jennings oversees the Los Angeles Times’ Metpro and internship programs as well as works closely with HR and department heads to help manage a broad range of responsibilities, including tracking, recruiting, interviewing and selecting diverse candidates for job opportunities and advancing the company’s efforts to promote diversity, equity, inclusion and access. She also works across the newsroom on retention, training and career development efforts. Jennings previously worked as a reporter in Metro. She got her start in the Metpro program in 2011 and has since worked on assignments with many departments in the newsroom, including Metro, National, Calendar, Business and podcasts. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska.