First Of Its Kind Virtual Town Hall Addresses COVID-19 Racial Disparities

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be one of the most devastating public health crises in modern history. As the virus began to spread in the United States, California declared a state of emergency on March 4, 2020. During that time, areas with the largest number of cases in Los Angeles County were historically wealthier communities, both suburban and urban.

Recognizing the lack of COVID-19 testing sites in unincorporated communities of South Los Angeles, Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas mobilized resources and a partnership to provide testing and supplemental patient follow-up for the Watts/Willowbrook community.

“It has long been my mission to bring medical resources to chronically underserved communities,” said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “That’s why this partnership between Charles R. Drew University, the Martin Luther King Jr. Outpatient Center, the L.A. County Department of Health Services and the L.A. County Fire Department has been so essential. At a time when all of the data show communities of color are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, we came together to bring testing to an area where it is critically needed.”

The Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU), Martin Luther King Jr. Outpatient Center (MLK OPC), and Los Angeles County Fire Department (LAC FD) partnered to operate a COVID-19 viral infection detection testing site located on the CDU campus (CDU/MLK OPC/LAC FD Testing Site). The site has tested a large number of people from racial and ethnic minority groups that are at higher risk for poor outcomes and complications from COVID-19.

A recently released report from Charles R. Drew University COVID-19 testing site demonstrates that changes in outreach and test procedures can result in a dramatic increase in the number of individuals tested in under-resourced communities. The report, with detailed demographic data, findings and recommendations, is available here.

“Our site demonstrates the impact that locally tailored approaches to engage high-risk populations, often from racial and ethnic minority groups and under-resourced communities, can have on access and use of testing and health education to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Roberto Vargas, Assistant Dean, Health Policy, CDU College of Medicine, Director of the Health Policy Pillar, CDU Urban Health Institute and lead researcher for the report. “This includes allowing on-site registration and walk-through testing, marketing at local venues, and the use of culturally and linguistically familiar media outlets. These approaches are essential, as we have identified high rates of infection within the Latinx community and have successfully engaged African Americans who are among those at highest risk for poor outcomes associated with the disease. Moreover, our findings of over 30% of those positive for infection not having a medical home highlights the need for additional social needs assessments and support.”

“The earlier reports, in March and April, seemed to show that COVID-19 was more prevalent in more affluent areas of the county, but we knew South Los Angeles was deeply affected,” said CDU President and CEO Dr. David M. Carlisle. “It was a matter of greater access to testing in those areas, and far less access to convenient testing here. With some minor enhancements to the testing process, among them conducting direct community outreach by CDU and other student volunteers and staying open on weekends and holidays, our site has demonstrated that we can provide the same critically important access to tests to under-resourced communities. We are now one of the highest-volume testing sites in the county, consistently testing over 700 people per day.”

To discuss the findings of the report and answer questions from the surrounding communities, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas convened a first-of-its-kind virtual town hall reaching over 20,000 people and generating over 200 comments from concerned residents. The town hall featured answers from Charles R. Drew University President Dr. David Carlisle, LA County Dept of Health Services Language Access and Inclusion Director Dr. Erika Uribe, Charles R. Drew University Lead Researcher Dr. Roberto Vargas,  and Charles Drew University School of Medicine Testing Site Director Dr. Sheila Young.

“As this pandemic continues, it is crucial that demographic data on how COVID-19 is affecting people by race and by gender and by age and that it not only be collected but used to better target and inform our community-wide efforts,” the Supervisor said.

Watch the full town hall here:

Barbershops and Beauty Salons: Everything You Need to Know About Reopening

 

As the county of Los Angeles moves into the next phase of reopening – many individuals are eager to jump into the chairs of their favorite barber shops and hair salons. Recently, the Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas visited three local hair/barber salons around the city including: Stakely’s Barber Shop in Ladera Heights, JQ’s Barbershop in Florence-Firestone, and Hair By Julianne Cho in Koreatown to demonstrate proper safety guidelines and social distancing practices.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and we all should do our part to help them stay open safely. But we are absolutely not out of the woods yet, so we must continue to protect our health and those of everyone around us,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “Following public health directives is critical as we go back to work, dine-in at our favorite restaurants, and make that long-awaited trip to the barber shop or beauty salon.”

For many, local barber shops and beauty salons are considered a safe space that provides comfort for community conversations and an essential place for social interaction. Stakely’s Barber Shop was that and more for its clientele. “It’s very important that we continue to support our clients and other small businesses, to try to see them through this tough time. To me, small businesses are the backbone to the community and small businesses matter,” said shop owner, Tyrone Stakley.

Local salon owner, Julianne Cho had to make significant alterations to her store before her grand re-opening including removing chairs so that there was at least 6ft between each station. “I believe the most important thing is the safety of my staff and customers. When opening the business, I was happy that I was able to go back to work at first. However, as time passed, customers were still worried and I was a bit concerned because there was no vaccine. There were many things that I had to do before opening the store. Therefore, I had to spend a lot of time preparing for the reopening. All customers must wear a mask upon entering the building, as well as use hand sanitizer.”

Juan Quezada of JQ’s Barber shop is also doing everything he can to make his clients feel secure during their visit. As a part of his reopening process, it mandatory that ever customer gets their temperature checked before entering. “My hope is that my business goes back to what it used to be, and that my business prospers. If we lose small businesses, we lose everything.”

Although the reopening of hair salons and barber shops is a major step forward, the threat of COVID-19 is far from over. Residents must continue to practice physical distancing, wear cloth face coverings and follow public health guidelines in place.

For more information on the Do’s and Don’t’s and key, specific guidelines for customers at hair salons, barbershops please visit: https://ridley-thomas.lacounty.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/VARIANCE-FAQs-2-ckskrrBF-edits.pdf

 

Serving Koretown’s Most Vulnerable During COVID-19 Pandemic

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas partnered with Kheir Clinic to help distribute more than 800 free meals to low-income Koreatown residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During this pandemic, low-income families have faced unprecedented amounts of financial distress, so we must do all that we can to help those who need it the most,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “I am proud to partner with Kheir Clinic, to serve the Koreatown community. Hunger is an issue that affects so many, and we want to make sure that no individual goes home empty-handed.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas passes out food to low-income residents in Koreatown during Kheir Clinic’s meal distribution.

Patients of the Kheir Clinic, residents of St. James Episcopal Church shelter, and families from Bresee Youth Center were provided with hot meals from Mr. Seung Hoon Lee’s Oyabun and Bon Shabu Restaurant.

Kheir Clinic is a nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center that provides free and low-cost healthcare and human services for multicultural populations.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on our community,” said Erin Pak, CEO of Kheir Clinic. “Many have lost jobs and benefits, and Kheir’s clinicians report that patients are struggling with hunger and food insecurity. We’ve been collaborating with local partners on food distribution initiatives like today’s event, making fresh and nutritious meals more accessible for our patients and neighbors.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas toured the clinic, visited several patients and provided them with hand sanitizer. Patients also received information on Kheir’s wide range of integrated healthcare services, including the clinic’s expansion of free COVID-19 testing.

For more information on nutrition programs, food banks, free meals, and other community resources for fighting food insecurity in Los Angeles County visit: covid19.lacounty.gov/food.

$3 Million in Small Business and Non-Profit Grant Assistance to be Deployed Through New Los Angeles-Area COVID Recovery Fund

As businesses and non-profits across the Los Angeles region continue to face challenges in response to the public health and economic crisis of COVID-19, the County of Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles, and philanthropy have partnered to deploy $3 million dollars in grants for small businesses, non-profits and microentrepreneurs in a newly launched LA Regional COVID-19 Recovery Fund.

The $3 million dollar Recovery Fund, established as a joint effort by the County of Los Angeles, who have contributed $2 million dollars, and the City of Los Angeles, who have contributed $1 million dollars, as well as additional support from philanthropic partners, aims to assist small businesses, nonprofits, and microentrepreneurs that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, providing $5,000 grants to microentrepreneurs, and $15,000 grants to non-profits and small businesses. To ensure equitable access to capital across various demographics throughout the region, grants will be distributed through an equitable lottery system.

“Our small businesses and social enterprises are not only the economic engine of our region but its heart and soul,” said LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We know that once COVID-19 is gone, the economic damage will remain. We must do all that we can to make sure we’re supporting them through this difficult and unprecedented moment.”

“Small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we need to deliver every possible ounce of support, resources, and investment to help get them—and our region’s economy—back on track,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “From day one of this crisis, our City has acted to keep businesses open and workers on the job, and the LA Regional COVID-19 Recovery Fund is another vital source of financial assistance for the very backbone of our communities.”

Given the urgency for assistance, the Recovery Fund will be deployed in two phases and make technical support immediately available throughout the application process. The first phase will consist of a grant program, and a second phase will consist of a loan program that will launch at a later date. Starting on July 6, 2020, the first phase will deploy $3 million in grants available at $5,000 for micro-entrepreneurs and $15,000 for small businesses and non-profits. Both phases of the Recovery Fund will be accompanied by support from diverse technical assistance partners, funded by philanthropic and private sector partners. Support for these efforts include $1.1 million from the Wells Fargo Foundation, $100,000 from Citi, and funding from MUFG Union Bank Foundation.

The public-private partnership will be administered by national community development financial institution partner, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). LISC will administer the grant process and work through local partners to reach businesses and nonprofits who may not have received Federal relief funds.

“LISC LA is thrilled to be leading this crucial effort in partnership with the LA County working group,” said Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, Executive Director of LISC LA. “With over 40 years of experience connecting diverse communities to resources and opportunities, LISC has the knowledge of seasoned community partners along with the aptitude for expediency to lead the deployment of the Los Angeles-Area COVID Recovery Fund. Since day one of the pandemic we’ve been working to provide relief and recovery in low-income and underserved communities – as our organization focuses on garnering and deploying capital to small businesses and organizations that need it most. We are excited to get started on what we do best.”

Local partners providing technical assistance with proven experience in serving the County’s most vulnerable communities include the API Small Business Program, Inclusive Action for the City, LA Area Chamber of Commerce, New Economics for Women, Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE), Pacific Coast Regional (PCR), The Center by Lendistry, and Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation. The full list of technical assistance providers can be found on the LA Regional COVID Recovery Fund website.

Those who need assistance are encouraged to call (833) 238-4450, LA County’s Disaster Help Center and one-stop for local emergency resources. The Disaster Help Center will connect callers to LA Regional COVID Fund partners and provide the most updated Fund information.

Visit LACOVIDFund.org to access the Fund’s resources online or get connected to a technical assistance partner.

Continued County Support Allays Fears for Local Restaurants

Local favorites and minority-owned restaurants, Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen, Harold & Belle’s and Alta all have one thing in common – flavorful food. Recently Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas visited these three restaurants, and many others, to show his continued support for small businesses in need during this crisis.

“Local mom and pop restaurants have been some of the most recognizable small businesses that have been hit the hardest financially by covid-19. With a long road back to normalcy, I urge all patrons to do their part to safely support these restaurants,” commented the Supervisor while picking up food to go. “They represent the best of what we enjoy and love about Los Angeles County and our local communities.”

As we enter into stage 2 of the reopening, now more than ever, it is crucial to continue to support your favorite restaurants but also practice safe distancing. When local businesses thrive, the community thrives.

Founder and former owner of Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen, Adolf Dulan dubbed The King of Soul Food has reigned over the Los Angeles food scene for nearly 40 years. His son and head chef, Gregory Dulan had this to say about staying open during this crisis. “Unfortunately, a lot of employees live paycheck to paycheck and we wanted to do everything we could to stay open to keep our employees working. We also wanted to stay open so that we could serve the community and do our best to be good community citizens.”

“Harold & Belles is family, it’s home, it’s authentic home cooking. We have a very loyal following that has stuck with us throughout this entire COVID crisis and it’s been pretty amazing to see,” explained Director of Operations for Harold & Belles, Andrew Alvarado. Established in 1986, Harold & Belles have always prided themselves on their creole/Cajun style cuisine. Alvarado whose favorite dish is the file-gumbo, has a unique menu consisting of Po-Boy Sandwiches, Red Beans & Rice and Louisiana styled catfish.

“Alta was created to elevate soul food, so, it’s soul food done with traditional flavors just elevated with raw products.” Known for their oxtails and collard greens, this restaurant in the West Adams community is Los Angeles’ newest hot spot.

Although these restaurants may have been briefly impacted by the devastating economic toll of the novel coronavirus, it certainly hasn’t stopped  them. Though the power of food may have strengthened and united their community. Because of their loyal customers who have been a much-needed support during these desperate times, these restaurants have not only been able to survive they have been able to thrive.