Some Eastside and South LA communities disproportionately impacted by COVID

Someone with cap and masks reaches into box

A Ribbon for Humanity volunteer in Los Angeles prepares PPE.Photo by Alex Mecl on Unsplash

Natalie Alcala, Community News Reporter

Some communities on Los Angeles’ Eastside and in South L.A. were among those with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections.

That is according to a UT Community News analysis of data from Nov. 18 from Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health.

Some of the communities with the highest case rates are within UT Community News’ coverage zone on the Eastside and in South L.A.

The findings include:

  • Eleven, or more than one-third of the 30 cities and neighborhoods with the most COVID cases per 100,000 people — out of 341 areas in the county examined in total — are from the eastern or southern part of the county. The eleven communities include Vernon, City of Industry, Huntington Park, the L.A. neighborhood of Florence-Firestone, Bell Gardens, South Gate and Bell, which are all in the South L.A. area. The neighborhoods on and near the Eastside are Boyle Heights, El Monte, South El Monte, and La Puente.
  • The City of Industry had 12,586 cases per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, Vernon had 7,656 and South El Monte had 4,735.
  • Among the 11 areas, death rates were highest in the City of Industry, with 458 per 100,000 people.

Some of the communities’ rates may seem skewed because they are such small cities in terms of the residents. City leaders also said some people may be listing their work addresses when getting tested instead of their home addresses.

Age must be also factored in when examining the cases, according to Gregory Stevens, a professor from the Department of Public Health at Cal State LA.

“The age-adjustment process is important because it helps rule out any differences that could have been attributed to age instead of race/ethnicity,” he said.

Of 25 cities and communities in Los Angeles County that have the highest age-adjusted infection rates for the two-week period ending Dec. 11, eight — or about one-third — are near the southern or eastern areas: Bell Gardens, Commerce, Cudahy, the unincorporated Florence-Firestone area, Lynwood, South El Monte, La Puente and Jefferson Park.

Table shows 25 areas in L.A. with the highest COVID cases, case rates, death rates and age adjusted rates.
L.A. County’s public health department provides a list of the top 25 areas with the highest age-adjusted case rates for COVID-19. Courtesy of Los Angeles County.

Sam Pedroza, public affairs manager for the City of Industry, said in a phone interview that “the numbers show the impacts and case rates which reflect the population coming from a long-term health center. The city is more industrial for jobs.”

Since the city is so small, he said he’s unclear on why the case rate was so high in the city. He said the deaths may be coming from its volunteer care center.

His concern is “the public gatherings. That may be the cause of the rising of COVID cases.”

In order to protect residents from COVID-19, he said “the city is providing PPE to residents such as hand sanitizer, gloves, face shields, masks, and even thermometers.”

Freddie Agyin, director of the city of Vernon’s Health & Environment Control Department, said in a phone interview that the local government is doing a lot to help curb the spread and inform residents.

Much like the City of Industry, Vernon “provides face coverings and hand sanitizers. We provide financial help to the residents,” he said. “The city provided monetary services such as groceries and [transportation-related services]. We also head door-to-door providing information.” 

The actual number of cases was low: 21, as of Nov. 18, in part because the city is mostly made up of businesses and only has about 200 to 250 residents. The number of actual deaths in Vernon was 0.

“Vernon is an industrial city.  People who work in the city don’t live there,” Agyin said. “It’s laid out that way.”

Agyin said the case rate may be high because “people are using their businesses’ [addresses] instead of their home. The city or other systems can’t pick up the people who are residents or employees. The problem may not be fixed because a lot of people are being tested.”

The Farmer John plant in Vernon was fined after at least 153 employees tested positive — despite the company’s representatives saying they were aggressive about investigative potential cases among employees and providing personal protective gear once COVID-guidelines were released, according to an Los Angeles Times story.

As for South El Monte, it also has a large number of businesses.

“South El Monte is half residential and half commercial. Residents are exposed to way more because of people coming into their town,” said city manager Rachel Barbosa.

A high case rate can also indicate one positive person taking multiple tests.

One person may take 2-3 or more tests immediately following a positive case that may result in multiple positive test results,” she added. The city has “taken extreme measures to keep our residents and businesses safe. Our city council and staff responded immediately with programs and initiatives, including closing public facilities and timely and consistent health order updates on social media.”

The city also set up a “Safe Seniors Program” in which the elderly and people with disabilities can sign up to receive a daily phone call check-in from the city to assess their needs and provide a daily meal.

Barbosa said the city also invested in safer equipment, technology, furniture, and spacing to help protect its employees.

Beth Hoffman, an associate professor in the Public Health Department at Cal State LA, said several things may lead to more COVID cases, including economics.

“Another factor is population density: A higher density of people in one’s home and neighborhood means more chances for infection,” she said.

Jose Orozco Pelico, board president of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, said that “we battle with an educational component in our community and access to testing sites.”

In an email interview, he said, “The BHNC has partnered with various organizations to help distribute hand sanitizers and cloth masks. Recently, we partnered with CORE to set-up additional testing sites in Boyle Heights. Along with the testing sites we have provided cloth masks, courtesy of the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA, outreach, and the educational component.”

Community News reporters are enrolled in JOUR 3910 – University Times. They produce stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to [email protected]