When he worked at a hospital in downtown Los Angeles, Dr. Gregory Taylor saw cases that reflected the community where he grew up: a host of underlying health conditions killing black patients.
Taylor, an internist, called those conditions — diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory diseases — “a part of the community fabric” among black residents of South Los Angeles.
“It’s true across our ethnicity as a whole,” said Taylor, who grew up in Leimert Park and now works at Keck Hospital of the University of Southern California. “What you see over and over is black folks in a poorer state of health.”
Now those underlying conditions are contributing to African Americans’ vulnerability to COVID-19, which is killing them at the highest rate among all races in Los Angeles County.
Of the 1,418 people who died in Los Angeles County – by far the largest number in California – 12.5 percent are black residents, even though they make up 8 percent of the population, according to the Department of Public Health’s dashboard.
A disparate death rate
The spread of the virus in Los Angeles County has been relatively egalitarian: No matter how rich, or white, or educated the neighborhood, nearly every area has confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Some of the highest infection rates are in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Melrose, wealthy ZIP codes where white residents are more than 75 percent of the population.
But the impacts once the coronavirus reaches a neighborhood are a different story.
For instance, in Inglewood, which has one of the largest black populations in Los Angeles County, the death rate from the virus is 34 per 100,000 residents, while in majority-white Glendale, just 14 miles away, it’s 18 deaths per 100,000, according to the county’s dashboard data.
Part of the explanation could be the high rates of underlying health conditions among the area’s black residents. Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma all lead to more severe outcomes for people with COVID-19.