Long Beach data shows black residents more likely to be hospitalized for coronavirus

Black residents make up 13% of Long Beach’s population, but they account for about 21% of hospitalizations for coronavirus, according to numbers released Monday.

The disproportionate number of black residents hit by the virus follows nationwide trends showing that people in this demographic group are dying at slightly higher rates than other races. Residents have been hit especially hard in cities like New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit with large black populations.

Last week, Los Angeles County released data showing that black residents accounted for 17% of deaths, while making up only about 9% of the county’s population.

Long Beach did not release data showing death rates among demographic groups, only hospitalization rates and the number of positive cases.

Local health officials, however, cautioned that the numbers are an incomplete snapshot since they only have racial data for about 60% of cases.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia in a news conference Monday said he is deeply concerned by the trend. The city will release more information this week on how it is working to address the disparity.

“Clearly our African American population is at greater risk of hospitalization in Long Beach and that’s something we should take very seriously,” Garcia said. “It’s something we should not find acceptable.”

Overall, the statistics show that infection rates for most races were comparable to their population size, but black residents were significantly more likely to be hospitalized.

A city memo from Acting City Manager Tom Modica noted that the virus more severely impacts those with underlying health conditions including diabetes, asthma and high blood pressures, which also disproportionately affect black residents. 

“As we have seen in other data, factors such as implicit bias in health care and a host of other social determinants have contributed to these health inequities,” Modica said.

The city is planning for more available testing in predominantly black communities and better community education on social distancing and sanitation protocols. Officials are also working to find isolation sites for people who cannot isolate at home.

On one positive note, City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said early numbers show slightly lower infection rates in Long Beach. The number of positives cases jumped by 13 on Monday—one of the lowest increases since March.

On Sunday, health officials reported five new cases of the virus, but they cautioned that the numbers can be deceivingly low over the weekend because not all labs report results outside of normal business hours.

Los Angeles County reported 239 new cases, the smallest single-day increase since March 26—something county public health director Barbara Ferrer called “a good thing.” In all, there are at least 9,420 confirmed cases across LA County.

Davis attributed the lower rates to residents being diligent about social distancing and following the city’s “Safer at Home” order.

“Cases do seem to be slowing somewhat, so we do believe the Safer at Home order is working,” she said.

Overall, the city reported 350 positive cases of the coronavirus, up from 337 on Sunday. That includes 48 people who are hospitalized and approximately 148 cases where people have recovered.

Davis said the city has ramped up testing and is seeing an average of 60 people per day at its drive-up testing site at Long Beach City College’s Pacific Coast campus. The site has tested 347 since it opened on April 7, she said.

People can sign up by visiting the county’s website. 

The city on Monday reported two more deaths from complications from coronavirus, marking 11 deaths in the span of a week.

The victims were both women with underlying health conditions.

The latest numbers show an alarming increase of cases in nursing homes. Of the total 14 deaths, 10 are associated with long-term care facilities. The city has so far reported 73 positive cases in six long-term care facilities.

The cases include both facility residents and staff members. Of the fatalities, all have had underlying health conditions and range in ages from 50s to 80s.

Across Los Angeles County, at least 320 people diagnosed with COVID-19 have died, according to authorities, an increase of 25 from Sunday.

The county’s mortality rate continued to climb, reaching 3.4% Monday, according to Ferrer, who said one contributing factor to the rate rising recently is that people can be sick with the disease for a time before the take a turn for the worse and die.

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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