Density, poverty keep Los Angeles struggling against coronavirus
LOS ANGELES — While most of California welcomed more places to eat, shop and play this holiday weekend, Los Angeles did not join the party.
The nation’s most populous county is not planning to reopen more widely until the next summer holiday, July 4th, because it has a disproportionately large share of the state's coronavirus cases and can't meet even new, relaxed state standards for allowing additional businesses and recreational activities.
Los Angeles County, with a quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million residents, accounts for nearly half of its COVID-19 cases, and more than 55% of the state’s more than 3,600 deaths.
In recent days, death and hospitalization trends have improved, but on Friday the White House coronavirus response coordinator named LA as a region where spread of the virus is a concern. Dr. Deborah Birx asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help look into the source of new cases to help prevent future outbreaks.
Los Angeles is among a small number of California's 58 counties that either have not sufficiently contained the virus to reopen more activities and commerce or, in the case of several San Francisco Bay Area counties, have chosen to move more slowly.
Density is at the heart of LA's problem — in nursing homes that have recorded about half the county's deaths and in some of the nation's most tightly packed poor neighborhoods where Latino and African-Americans suffer a disproportionate number of infections and deaths.
Unlike compact New York City, which has been the nation’s coronavirus epicenter, Los Angeles and the surrounding county sprawl into suburbia and many communities of single-family homes. That lack of density, highest in wealthy areas, and reliance on cars as the main way to get around serve as shields from the virus.
But many in large inner-city swaths live an opposite reality. Multiple generations sometimes share an apartment. Essential low-wage workers don't have the luxury to telecommute. Grocery stores and pharmacies are scarce and fewer people with cars means more rely on buses, rail, bicycles or getting a ride, all situations where they often can’t adequately separate themselves from others.
A study released Wednesday by the University of California, Los Angeles, found 40% of black people and Latinos reside in neighborhoods where those living conditions make them more susceptible to getting infected or transmitting the virus.
“It just builds on the vulnerability of these residents and of these ethnic enclaves," said Sonja Diaz, co-author of the report and director of the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative. “They’re least equipped to deal with this virus because now they live in neighborhoods where they can’t stay at home and practice physical distancing, they’re hardest hit economically and then they’re not getting relief and recovery benefits."
Jesus Ramirez spent the past two months hunkered down in a one-bedroom apartment with his parents and brother in South Los Angeles, where the UCLA study highlighted 12 of the 15 neighborhoods most at risk.
Neighbors haven't always kept their distance when retrieving mail, and many didn't follow the city's now mandatory mask policy. Unlike parts of town where people could get outside for exercise, Ramirez didn't feel safe going to nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Park because it is dominated by gang members, prostitutes and homeless people.
Ramirez was driving to a fine-dining restaurant where he was cooking meals for takeout and for hospice patients. He planned to pick up a coworker to help the colleague avoid the risk of infection on a bus.