Wednesday, Los Angeles health officials announced details of a focused effort to expand testing capacity by over 65% in targeted “hot-spot” communities in response to data showing a disproportionately higher burden of COVID-related illness in communities of color and those with higher rates of poverty. Officials also announced a $4 million investment in public-private partnerships, outreach, and community engagement to reduce transmission disparities and facilitate broader access to testing while providing historically under-resourced communities with resources.
The data collected from County-supported testing sites points to a concerning trend in higher test positivity rate by race and economic status and higher mortality rate in Black and Latinx communities, where the age-adjudged mortality rate is twice that of whites. Test positivity is an important indicator of the trajectory of the pandemic and the ability to provide enough testing needed to keep transmission low. The rate of test positivity is higher among the Latinx community than among any other racial or ethnic group in L.A. County; data also shows a direct correlation between poverty level and test positivity.
“This data is alarming and requires urgent focus to do more to expand access to testing and address the health equity issues that COVID-19 makes tragically clear every day,” said Los Angeles County Department of Health Services director Dr. Christina Ghaly. “We must remember that testing is only one factor. There are underlying reasons why communities of color are disproportionately impacted by worse outcomes of COVID-19—long-standing structural and systemic issues, including social determinants of health, that the County is working to address and mitigate amidst this pandemic.”
Focusing on “hot-spot” areas, the County is adding testing capacity by standing up new sites and adding capacity to existing sites in a manner that addresses the stark disproportionality of testing access facing vulnerable populations identified through heat mapping. The mapping shows communities with higher test positivity and mortality rates and where the overall testing rate is not meeting the 1.5 tests per 1,000 daily threshold set by the State of California.
The multi-pronged effort includes the following:
- Adding six new sites in high-need areas including Montebello, South Gate, Azusa, Panorama City, Compton and Downey/Norwalk, and expanding capacity at existing sites in Bellflower, Pomona, El Monte and East Los Angeles.
- Allocating $4 million from a Center for Disease Control grant to support a broadcast media and grassroots in-language, culturally-responsive messaging campaign including work with community-based organizations to perform outreach and education to community members and provide linkages to testing, healthcare and support services including housing, food and health insurance.
- Supporting additional public-private partnerships and funding partners embedded in high-risk communities as trusted messengers to effectively reach the most at-risk and historically under-resourced communities.
- And expanding a successful pilot of community engagement at County-operated sites that connects community members to medical care and support services at the point of testing in concert and leverages collaborations with partners to distribute resource kits at other testing sites in high risk area that include protective equipment, basic need materials, food vouchers and multi-lingual and culturally sensitive prevention materials.
“When we look at areas of highest need, adding testing sites is only one piece of a broader approach and it doesn’t stop there,” said emergency room physician and Department of Health Services’ Director of Language Access and Inclusion Dr. Erika Flores Uribe. “We must couple that with funneled medical and social resources to close the disparity gap through highly targeted, layered, in-language and culturally responsive outreach and support.”
The Positivity Curves by Race and Poverty, as well as the Heatmap, can be found in the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services’ Community Testing Dashboard is available on the DHS website at dhs.lacounty.gov/wps/portal/dhs or via the direct file link at file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/dhs/1075560_LACountyCOVID-19CommunityTestingDashboard-Final7.15.20.pdf.