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California

L.A. County releases first neighborhood breakdown of COVID-19 deaths; poor areas hit hard

DTLA NEIGHBORHOOD COMMUNITY CORONAVIRUS
Alexander Martinez watches the sunset from the 1st Street Bridge in Los Angeles.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The first neighborhood-level glimpse of the COVID-19 death toll in Los Angeles County shows in grim detail that poorer areas are seeing an outsize number of fatalities.

Some of the highest death rates are in low-income neighborhoods of Central Los Angeles, a Times analysis of county health department data released Tuesday shows.

Working-class neighborhoods such as East Hollywood, Pico-Union and Westlake all have more than 40 deaths per 100,000 people, which is four times higher than the countywide rate of 9.9 per 100,000. Many neighborhoods across South L.A. also had higher death rates, figures show.

County health officials said this week that those who live in lower-income communities in L.A. County are more likely to die of the disease than those in wealthier communities.

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“This data is deeply disturbing, and it speaks to the need for immediate action in communities with disproportionately high rates of death,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said earlier this week. “This would mean increased testing, better access and connection to healthcare and support services, and more accurate, culturally appropriate information about COVID-19.”

One complicating factor is that some of the communities with the highest death rates in the county are home to long-term care facilities, including skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities that have been hot spots for coronavirus outbreaks. That includes the Little Armenia neighborhood of Los Angeles, which topped the countywide list with 20 deaths and a death rate of 249 per 100,000 people.

There have been 19 deaths in the city of Bell with a rate of 52 per 100,000 people. That places the southeast L.A. County city among the top 10 highest of more than 300 communities countywide, according to the health department data.

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All of those fatalities appear to be associated with the Bell Convalescent Hospital, a facility that is linked to 19 coronavirus deaths, county records show.

Some of the areas with the highest death rates also lead the nation in levels of overcrowding, including Pico-Union and Westlake where more than a third of housing units are crowded — meaning there is more than one person per room, excluding bathrooms. A recent Times report found that Los Angeles County has five of the 10 most crowded ZIP Codes in the United States, and public health officials said such housing conditions can accelerate the spread of the virus.

Officials have also found that African Americans are dying at the highest rate in the county. The death rate for African Americans is 13.2 per 100,000 people, compared with 9.8 for Latinos, 7.9 for Asians and 5.7 for whites, according to county figures released earlier this week.

“This is significantly higher than the mortality rate of all other races and ethnicities,” Ferrer said.

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Those rates were calculated based on the 865 people who died whose race or ethnicity has been identified as of Monday.

The new community-level data were released as part of an interactive COVID-19 dashboard the county launched Tuesday that provides more detailed information on testing, cases and deaths than was previously available. It includes graphs that show cumulative and daily figures for confirmed cases and deaths, along with information broken down by community, poverty level, age, gender and race.

After appearing to level off for a time, the number of COVID-19 cases reported in Los Angeles County rose at a rapid clip over the last week.

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Some of that is because of increased testing, as well as the clearing of a backlog of pending test results, officials said.

L.A. County has one-quarter of California’s population, but has been home to about half of the deaths so far. On Tuesday, an additional 59 coronavirus deaths were reported in the county, pushing the total past 1,000.

The county health department said that 46% of all deaths were among residents in institutional settings, most of them residents of skilled nursing facilities. The California National Guard is now assisting with staffing at some nursing homes.

It’s taken weeks for the disproportionate effect on poor people of color to become apparent as health officials slowly roll out more complete demographic information.

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Earlier in the outbreak, for instance, some of L.A. County’s whitest and wealthiest enclaves were reporting higher rates of infection than poorer neighborhoods of color, according to a Times analysis. But county officials and health experts said that was an incomplete picture of the true spread of the virus, and skewed by uneven access to testing and international travel by wealthy residents.

But that trend has shifted in recent weeks. Lower-income neighborhoods, including the Vermont Square neighborhood of South L.A. and Pico-Union now rank among the top communities countywide in the number of reported cases per capita.


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