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To Live and Die Poor in L.A.: Virus Survey’s Grim Figures

Los Angeles reports that its county’s low-income COVID deaths are triple the number of those of wealthier neighborhoods.




Downtown Los Angeles during the pandemic. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Over the past month, data compiled at several coronavirus hotspots have suggested certain risk factors that may lead to higher rates of infection and death due to COVID-19. The latest numbers from Los Angeles County put the data into the broader context that some social advocates have been trying to hammer home for weeks.

The greatest vulnerability, in the time of this pandemic, is being poor.

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Delivered on Sunday, the statistics from the Los Angeles County Public Health Department were stark: Individuals living in the county’s lower-income communities are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those living in wealthier neighborhoods.

L.A. County, the nation’s most populous at more than 10 million, recorded a rate of 16.5 deaths per 100,000 people in communities where at least 30 percent of the residents lived in poverty. (By the U.S. Census Bureau’s calculation, the poverty threshold for a family of four is set at an annual combined income of less than $25,701.) In communities where fewer than 10 percent of the residents lived in poverty, the rate was 5.3 deaths per 100,000, the department’s report said.

African-American COVID-19 deaths in L.A. and elsewhere are well out of proportion to their percentage of the overall population in their respective cities.

“As we have more information about who is dying, we are reminded that the work ahead requires that we address issues of disproportionality that result in higher rates of death among African Americans, Latinx and Asians as well as residents living in poverty,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health, said in a statement accompanying the statistical release. “Ensuring access to testing, early treatment and care, and economic support among those communities at higher risk of devastating outcomes associated with COVID-19 is essential.”

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When Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans, among other urban centers, began reporting infections and deaths of black residents from COVID-19 that were well out of proportion to their percentage of the overall population in those cities, experts were quick to point out that living and working conditions are inseparable from those numbers. Chicago’s black communities, for example, tend to be poorer than the city at large, with crowded living conditions and limited or no access to medical care.

But despite such evidence, a national consensus on the topic has been difficult to achieve, in part because so many states and municipalities haven’t published detailed demographic or racial breakdowns of coronavirus cases. Of more than 950,000 cases in the U.S. documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer than 33 percent have been broken down by race.

A bicameral congressional effort to address that gaping statistical hole is under way. Introduced by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), among others, the bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to break down COVID-19 testing, treatment and fatality rates by race, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and several other demographic categories.

In L.A. County, black people continued to see the highest death rate from COVID-19, with 13 deaths per 100,000 people. That compared with a rate of 9.5 for Latino people, 7.5 for Asian people and 5.5 for white people, the department’s news release said. Proportionally, Latino residents accounted for 37 percent of the county’s deaths, whites 28 percent, Asian people 18 percent and African Americans 14 percent.

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You may well need The Check. But you also need it to reach you safely. And that is more complicated than a simple government issuance would seem.

Some of the neediest Americans in line for federal stimulus money may also be the most susceptible to being defrauded out of it, according to tax and cybersecurity experts interviewed by National Public Radio. Its report found that among those who earn so little (less than $12,200 annually) that they don’t have to pay taxes, the government requires only the most basic information to verify their identities before distributing a stimulus check.

“I was a little shocked to see that,” cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs told NPR. Krebs said the only information required of those who did not file a tax return was a name, date of birth, Social Security number, address and phone number – all of which could be obtained from the Internet by an unscrupulous operator with a few bucks to spend.

Although there is no documented evidence of such theft yet, an information technology expert told NPR it likely already has occurred. The IRS, while not addressing the specific vulnerability, said it was actively working to prevent scams and was prioritizing investigations into those who prey on vulnerable taxpayers.

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Last week’s column addressed some of the extreme measures to which officials have gone to ensure they had adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for their health workers. Add San Francisco to the list of cities that have reasons to be so desperate.

S.F. Mayor: Feds diverted some city orders for PPE to other states and abroad. One order for isolation gowns went to France.

According to Mayor London Breed, some of San Francisco’s orders for PPE have wound up being sent to other locations in the U.S. and abroad. Among other things, she said, an order for isolation gowns was diverted to France.

“We’ve had situations when things we’ve ordered that have gone through Customs were confiscated by FEMA to be diverted to other locations,” Breed said at a press conference. “Through Customs, we’ve had situations where those items have been taken and put out on the market for the highest bidder, putting cities against cities and states against states.”

Breed said she wanted city residents to understand the difficulty officials were having in helping local hospitals to be adequately prepared to handle COVID-19 cases. The fact that local and state governments are still scrapping to obtain PPE this far into the crisis, she said, “blows my mind.”

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And why are masks so hard to get in the first place? The reasons vary wildly – but alleged fraud doesn’t help.

Two Inland Empire executives are accused
of planning a massive N95 mask fraud.

FBI agents have arrested two California executives who the agents say tried to swindle New York investors in a deal involving N95, KN95 and surgical masks. The men, taken into custody Monday, are accused of conspiring to commit wire fraud through a price-gouging operation involving their company, International Commerce and Investment Group.

According to the federal complaint, the men initially pitched two potential New York investors on the idea of reselling 40 million masks at double or triple the price the investors would be charged. The complaint says the California executives “did not own nor otherwise have the authorization to sell” the PPE, for which they sought more than $4 million from the investors, and that they kept sealed, empty boxes at their office that they said contained masks but were really props.

Donald Allen, 62, of Riverside, and Manuel Revolorio, 37, of Rancho Cucamonga, will face charges in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York. In a statement, U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said the men “sought to take advantage of the urgent need for life-saving personal protective equipment through a fraudulent scheme designed to line their own pockets.”

Copyright 2020 Capital & Main

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