Life expectancy for Latinos in Long Beach dropped by 4 years in 2020 because of COVID-19, health officials say

COVID-19 killed so many people in Long Beach last year that it cut the city’s average life expectancy by a little over two years, according to recently released statistics from the Long Beach Health Department.

But one specific population group felt the effects of the pandemic even more dramatically: Average life expectancy for Latino residents dropped by about four years in 2020, according to recently released memo from health officials.

The pandemic affected life expectancy because it caused so many more residents—especially Latino residents—to die at a younger age than normal. Currently, the average life expectancy for Latinos is 74. For Black residents it’s 69, and for Asian and White residents it’s about 78.

Out of the over 900 people who have died as a result of the pandemic, 43% of them were Latino, according to numbers from the city.

To address these health inequities, Long Beach Health and Human Services Director Kelly Colopy said the city used about $1 million of federal CARES Act funding in late 2020 in partnership with nonprofit groups to host local health drives, testing clinics in the fall and other health awareness events for their Latino and Black neighbors. However, their efforts have proven to be insufficient.

Infection rates, particularly during the peak of the pandemic in December and January, placed a spotlight on areas of the city that suffered the most. In Long Beach, it was mostly low-income communities of color that accounted for hospitalizations and deaths, many of them frontline workers who could not work remotely and those living in tightly-packed multi-generational homes with elders who were more susceptible to the virus.

“We started that process but realized it didn’t go far enough to meet the needs,” Colopy said. “Council asked to develop a plan very specifically for Latinos around issues like food security, health conditions and different pieces to create a plan going forward.”

In March, Councilwoman Mary Zendejas called for the creation of the Mi Vida Cuenta, or my life matters, Latino Health initiative during a council meeting with a goal to find funding for the initiative as well as create a comprehensive plan to specifically address Latino health needs.

The goal of the initiative is to fund health education, vaccine distribution, food distributions and mental health care for Latinos and undocumented residents through local nonprofits.

Colopy said the city is expecting to use money from the American Recovery Act to fund this Latino health initiative but is not sure how much would be allocated. Part of what it will fund is a contract agreement with Cal State Long Beach researchers to develop a community needs assessment specifically for Latinos in Long Beach.

While the plan calls to highlight socioeconomic disparities among communities of color beyond COVID-19, the plan will also push for vaccination awareness. As of Friday, the city had vaccinated about 96% of seniors, which Colopy said is a great success.

But vaccination data from the city shows that there are still a number of people in communities of color who have not been vaccinated. Latinos in Long Beach make up about 40% of the population but account for just 27% of the population that has been vaccinated.

Where vaccinations are starting to drop off is among young adults ages 21 through 39. There are varying factors as to why young adults are not being vaccinated. A report from the New York Times shows that vaccination enthusiasm took a dive after Johnson & Johnson had to stop distributing its vaccine over reports of rare blood clots. The company has since been given the green light to continue using its vaccine, but the trust in communities already skeptical of the jab may have already been lost. While Colopy suggests that may be the case for a dip in vaccinations locally, she believes that younger people fear the virus less because it’s mostly caused the death of older people or because vaccination clinics have not been set up in places they frequently visit.

A push for more vaccinations, as well as other health awareness campaigns, will all be outlined in the plan which is expected to be brought to the City Council sometime in July, Colopy said.

Currently, officials are in the planning stages of the community needs assessment that Cal State Long Beach will lead, but there is no clear date when that report will be complete.

“We anticipate for it to start quite quickly,” Colopy said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify overall life expectancy decline citywide.

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