Hollywood Presbyterean Hospital in East Hollywood, Los Angeles

Three Months After Shut-down, L.A. “Reopens” while both COVID-19 and LAPD Budget Remain Uncontained, Posing the Greatest Risk to Black, Latino and AAPI Communities

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 86)

As of the evening of June 11th, according to the L.A. County Public Health Department, Black, Asian and Latino communities still represent more than 70% of 2,629 deaths from COVID-19 in L.A. County, while whites represent 29% of deaths. The numbers might seem commensurate with these groups’ share of the total population in L.A. County, but as before, they are actually still an under-count and not indicative of the whole picture.

Of 66,941 active coronavirus cases reported by the department, L.A. County Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, has pointed out that there is still a disproportionate rate of death for ethnic minority groups:

The death rate among Native Hawaiians & Pacific Islanders is 52 deaths per 100,000 people. And among African Americans the death rate is 33 deaths per 100,000 people. For people who identify as Latino and Latinx, the death rate is 32 deaths per 100,000 people. For people who are Asian, the rate is 23 deaths per 100,000 people, and for whites, the death rate is 17 deaths per 100,000 people…We also see that people who live in areas with high rates of poverty continue to have almost four times the rate of death for COVID-19.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Public Health Director

In my native East Hollywood neighborhood, the County is tracking a total of 254 cases, with 38 deaths from the disease so far, while the adjacent Silver Lake neighborhood is tracking a total of 221 cases, with 14 deaths from the disease so far.

But as startling as the numbers for a “natural disease” like COVID-19 in Los Angeles may be, they still fall short of another galling statistic for the county. In an L.A. Times report published earlier this week, data showed that since 2000, more than 78% of people killed by police in L.A. County–98% of whom were shot to death by police officers–were Black and Latino, overwhelmingly males between the ages of 20 and 39 years.

As protests of Mayor Garcetti’s police budget continue into this weekend, then, I wonder if another budget for Los Angeles has actually gone less noticed: The L.A. County sheriff department, which employs roughly as many boots on the ground as LAPD–just under 10,000–and almost 8,000 civilians on staff, was only recently approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for a budget of $3.5 billion through 2020 – 2021.

The L.A. County sheriff’s department patrols cities as close as East Los Angeles & South L.A., and as far as Lancaster and Castaic. The location of their patrol is highly significant since, according to the L.A. Times report, the neighborhoods with the highest number of fatal shootings by police are cities such as Compton, Inglewood and East Los Angeles, home to large minority populations, and where L.A. County sheriffs partner with LAPD to police civilians.

The L.A. County sheriff’s department also runs the L.A. County Jail, which oversees more than 17,000 people, where 80% of inmates are Black and Latino.

Similarly to their counterparts at LAPD, however, they actually seek more taxpayer dollars for their services, and may even have loftier ambitions than what LAPD’s longed-for $150 million raise would suggest. According to the L.A. County sheriff website, the department actually needs $400 million more than the $3.5 billion that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors has recommended for fiscal year 2020-2021.

At 18,000 staff members, the budget the L.A. County sheriff’s department seeks for 2020-2021 would amount to more than $216,000 a year for one staff member. At present, it is $194,000.

To be sure, with these numbers and more projections to consider, only a few things are clear:

At the beginning of the crisis due to coronavirus, there was much we did not know about the disease, no federal guidelines for states regarding testing sites or containment for COVID-19, and much confusion about the best course of action.

Three months later, there is still much we don’t know about the virus, no federal plan in place for testing or containment strategies, and now a litany of discussions about our racialized and punitive society proving more confusing than not for many. As the battles continue, more confusion will ensue, but I believe the time for a break, if not a breaking point, is upon us, Los Angeles.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 29

Over two weeks since The L.A. Storyteller reported that COVID-19 arrived in the East Hollywood and Silver Lake neighborhoods, the L.A. County Public Health department reports that 54 cases have been recorded in the former, while 86 cases are documented in the latter.

This can mean one of two things: either these communities have taken seriously each precaution to socially distance, or there are far more cases than are being recorded even while availability of testing has increased, with the latter still failing to provide a better overall estimate of cases.

I actually believe that both scenarios are true; during every visit to the grocery store, I’ve seen people following closely each protocol for safer shopping, and I believe that long after this crisis, they’ll continue to do so. And while testing hasn’t been as prevalent as in South Korea, where the government was testing up to 12,000 people a day at one point, symptomatic or not, L.A. County has set up a transparent process for those in need at covid19.lacounty.gov/testing.

I believe that due to the precautionary measures that have been taken, as it happened in China, where the pandemic began, a two month window for dealing with the novel coronavirus is what’s looking to be in store for Los Angeles as well. Dr. Ferrer said as much herself during her press briefing today, which also included translations in Español and հայերեն:

“Every day we’re getting closer to being able to see a time when more people are going to be able to go back to work and there will more places that are going to be open. We’re never going to be able to go back to exactly the way it was before COVID-19, but we are moving towards being on the other side of this pandemic.”

While I know that many people out there are exhausted from being home, and also critical of our government’s response and repeated warning system, which they are right to be, I’m still motivated by the collective response so many of us have taken part in, including that of many of our elected officials. For it’s shown a lot about just how much we’re capable of when we decide to create change as one planet, one village, one people; that we can still do it after all. As Dr. Ferrer noted in her remarks:

“It is working and I hope you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished along with everyone else.”

J.T.

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Coronavirus Lands in East Hollywood, Silver Lake

It’s official. According to the L.A. Times tracker, which began releasing known information about infected areas as recently as a day ago, and which at the time of this writing was last updated at 1:32 PM PST this March 29th, there are now five (5) recorded cases of patients who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 in East Hollywood.

In the adjacent neighborhood of Silver Lake, there are fourteen (14) recorded cases of patients who’ve tested positive.

Nearby, Hollywood has thirty-eight (38) recorded cases of patients who’ve tested positive for the novel coronavirus, while West Hollywood next door has fifty (50) caseloads on its records. According to the L.A. County Department of Health–last updated at noon this previous March 28th–L.A. County now has a total of at least 1,809 known cases of the virus.

Even these numbers, however, should be considered an under-count. Despite two weeks of the stay-at-home-orders in Los Angeles, the fact is that widespread testing for COVID-19 is still out of the picture for the foreseeable future. According to L.A. County’s leader in charge of testing, Clayton Kazan, a major hindrance has been waiting for test results to get back from out of state:

We need a massive scaling locally. As long as we’re having to ship our labs out of state, and we’re having to compete with all the other states that are struggling with their own outbreaks, then we’re going to be struggling.”

An additional problem, of course, is simply whether you have adequate access to healthcare at your fingertips; of the people who have been tested, reports do not show which are insured. In East Hollywood, made up predominantly of Latino and Asian communities, but also Armenian, Black, White and others, the median household income is estimated by Census Tracker as in the range of $39,562 USD, substantially less than the “average” of $69,138 for families of the same size in L.A. County.

While I’m not aware of specific data showing how many of the neighborhood’s residents are insured or not, it’s safe to infer from other available data that the majority of them–surviving on the minimum wages (and below) typically paid to their demographics–do not have adequate coverage at their fingertips.

Here, the words of Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the director of L.A.’s public health department, resonate loudly:

“There are thousands of people in our communities who are positive but who have not been tested.”

Readers are advised to increase their level of precautions, and to reach out to loved ones–safely–on further steps to ensure and maintain their health and well-being in the upcoming weeks with this public health threat.

J.T.