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Even as COVID-19 declines, L.A. Latinos see disproportionate devastation

An aerial nighttime view of lines of cars winding around the Dodger Stadium parking lot.
Hundreds of motorists line up to get COVID-19 vaccinations at Dodger Stadium in early February.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The COVID-19 death rate among Latino residents of L.A. County remains triple the rate for white residents even as the winter surge fades.

The average COVID-19 death rate among Latinos in L.A. County peaked in mid-January at a daily rate of 48 deaths per 100,000 Latino residents, three times worse than the rate for white residents, which was 16 deaths per 100,000 residents, according to data released last week.

Black residents in mid-January were dying from COVID-19 at a rate of 23 deaths per 100,000 residents; among Asian Americans, the rate was 20 per 100,000.

“When we look at rates of death by race and ethnicity ... once again, our Latinx community is bearing the worst from the pandemic,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said at a news briefing announcing the county data.

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By the end of January, average daily death rates for all races and ethnicities dropped — but fell more slowly for Latino and Black residents.

For the 14-day period that ended Jan. 30, the average daily COVID-19 death rate for Latinos in L.A. County was 33 per 100,000 residents; that’s triple the figure for white and Asian American residents, who were dying at a rate of 11 per 100,000 residents. Black residents were dying from COVID-19 at a rate of 14 per 100,000 residents.

“White and Asian residents have seen a more significant decline than that experienced by Black and Latinx residents,” Ferrer said. “Although the cases may be declining, this does not mean issues of racism, lack of resources and higher risk for adverse outcomes have disappeared. In fact, these factors still reveal themselves as contributing to the disproportionalities we remain noting in all of our reports.”

Chart showing death rates by race
Latino residents of L.A. County were still dying at triple the rate of white residents from COVID-19 at the end of January.
(Los Angeles County Department of Public Health)
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The COVID-19 death rate among residents of L.A. County’s most impoverished areas in mid-January, the pandemic’s peak, was four times worse than for residents of the county’s wealthiest areas, according to the data released last week.

The average daily COVID-19 death rate at that point among those living in the poorest areas of L.A. County peaked at nearly 60 fatalities a day for every 100,000 residents, while the rate in the wealthiest areas was about 17 deaths a day per 100,000 residents.

Latino and Black communities have been disproportionately hard hit since the beginning of the pandemic. Members of those communities are now dying at rates far worse than at any previous point in the COVID-19 crisis.

By the end of January, the disparity still existed: Those living in the poorest areas of L.A. County were dying of COVID-19 at a daily rate of about 35 per 100,000 residents, nearly triple the rate of residents of the wealthiest areas, where the COVID-19 death rate was about 12 a day per 100,000 residents.

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“Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has been devastating for people living in lower-resourced areas where there are higher numbers of people living in poverty,” Ferrer said.

Chart showing differences in COVID-19 death rate by area poverty
People living in the poorest areas of L.A. County are dying from COVID-19 at a daily rate roughly triple that of residents of the wealthiest areas.

Lower-income areas are highly susceptible to the spread of the coronavirus because of dense housing, crowded living conditions and a higher proportion of essential workers who are unable to work from home. Officials believe people get sick on the job and then spread the virus to family members at home.

California’s Latino and Black residents and people with an education up to a high school degree suffered among the highest increases in deaths during the pandemic, according to an analysis by researchers at UC San Francisco.

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In Los Angeles County, there is little mystery to the heaviest spread of the coronavirus. Where crowded housing is worst, the COVID-19 pandemic hits hardest.

California counties with a greater share of low-wage and crowded households have been hit harder by the pandemic, according to a study by the UC Merced Community and Labor Center. And Latino workers have the highest rate of employment in essential frontline jobs, where there’s a higher risk of exposure to the coronavirus, according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

For instance, 55% of Latinos work in such jobs, and 48% of Black residents, compared with 35% of white residents.

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