The Need for Better COVID-19 Data

by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Special to La Opinion

Charles Drew University drive-through testing site.   Photo by Michael Owen Baker / Board of Supervisors

The challenge that we face from the COVID-19 pandemic is truly one of enormous scale and human impact. Throughout the world, across the country, here in our own community our daily lives and the way we interact has dramatically changed. As businesses and non-essential services have shut down and we engage in social distancing, the impact of how this virus affects different communities is brought into sharper focus. What was initially reported as a public health issue all Americans faced equally, realities on the ground have begun to indicate otherwise.

Although plemenary, early numbers have shown across the country African-Americans and Latinos are at greater risk, with Latino’s representing 30 percent of COVID-19 cases in the state of California. Regrettably, we do not know more because demographic data collection efforts have only now begin to move apace.

As one of the largest providers of safety net and public services, for one of the most diverse populations in the United States, Los Angeles County has a special obligation to collect this data. More than 130 nationalities call this county home. For them, we must understand who are most at risk. We must know who is getting sick. We must know how and where they are being treated.  In sum, we must make sure our testing and the data collection efforts reflect the diversity of our region so we can appropriately and equitably allocate our resources to those most in need, as is the county’s mandate and mission.

History has shown us that minority health inequities have long existed across the County of Los Angeles. From this we know, Latinos are more than two times more likely to report difficulty accessing medical care compared to the majority of the population. The same social and economic determinants that have driven health disparities for generations—such as access to food, housing, education and health services—are undoubtedly exacerbating inequitable access to prevention, testing, and treatment resources for those at risk of, or suffering from COVID-19.

In this time of unprecedented uncertainty, data—carefully measured and collected information—will guide the way. It will tell us if our observations are the exception or the rule. It will allow us to be as strategic as we can to ensure that resources are appropriately and equitably distributed to the communities most in need. And, most importantly, it will help us to save lives.

As of writing, we have increased drive-through testing to one of the most underserved areas in LA County—Willowbrook and the surrounding South LA area. This location will provide free testing to everyone who meets the clinical criteria for testing, regardless of your income, insurance availability, immigration status, or residence.  In partnership with Charles Drew University, we are also working to collect demographic data, including information on ethnicity and zip code in relation to the number of tests performed, test results, as well as hospitalization and fatality rates at this site—I hope to see modeled across LA County.

I commend the initial efforts of the Department of Public Health, and their recent announcement that this would become a new priority; it is an important and major step in the right direction. But in the words of Benjamin E. Mayes, “the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.” Our goal must not to reflexively collect data for the sake of doing so, rather collect it with the intention to know as much as we can about how this virus affects our communities of color and put that information to work.

We will emerge from this stronger, but we cannot forget the depth of the unique challenge COVID-19 presents to each community. Because true public health can only be achieved when we achieve health equity. It’s one of the most enduring lessons that history has taught us.

Now more than ever we need to be paying close attention to history and be guided by current and complete data.

Se necesitan mejores datos sobre el COVID-19

 

El reto que nos plantea la pandemia de COVID-19 es verdaderamente de gran escala e impacto humano. Aquí en nuestra propia comunidad, nuestras vidas diarias y la manera en que convivimos han  cambiado drásticamente.

Inicialmente se había reportado que esta crisis es un problema de salud pública que afecta a todos los estadounidenses por igual, pero en realidad se ha empezado a indicar lo contrario en las diferentes comunidades.

Datos iniciales por todo el país indican que los afroamericanos y latinos corren un mayor riesgo de contraer el mal. Los hispanos representan el 30% de casos de COVID-19 en el estado de California. Lamentablemente no sabemos más, debido a que los esfuerzos de recolección de datos demográficos apenas empiezan a darse.

Como uno de los más grandes proveedores de red de protección social y servicos públicos, y por tener uno de los más diversos grupos de población en los Estados Unidos, el condado de Los Ángeles tiene la obligación especial de recolectar estos datos.

Las desigualdades de salud que enfrentan las minorías han existido desde hace mucho tiempo en todo el condado de Los Ángeles. Es por ello que  sabemos que los latinos tienen una probabilidad de entre dos y tres veces mayor de reportar dificultades al tratar de acceder al cuidado médico, comparados con el resto de la población.

En este momento de incertidumbre sin precedentes, son los datos—la información cuidadosamente recolectada y medida—los que guiarán el camino. Nos dirán si nuestras observaciones son la excepción o la regla. Nos permitirán planear estratégicamente lo más que se pueda, para asegurar que los recursos sean distribuidos de manera apropiada y equitativa en las comunidades que más lo necesitan.

Al escribir esto, hemos incrementado la cantidad de pruebas del COVID-19 para conductores en la vía pública, en una de las areas más necesitadas en el condado de Los Ángeles. Se trata de Willowbrook y el area alrededor del Sur de Los Ángeles. Allí se proporcionan pruebas gratuitas a cualquier persona que cumpla los requisitos clínicos de prueba, sin importar sus ingresos, seguro médico, estatus migratorio o residencia.

En asociación con la Universidad de Medicina Charles Drew, estamos también trabajando en recolectar datos demográficos. Esto incluye información de grupo étnico y código postal en relación al número de pruebas realizadas, resultados de pruebas, como también hospitalización y tasas de mortalidad en este sitio. Espero que esta iniciativa se convierta en el modelo para todo el condado.

Vamos a salir de esto más fuertes, pero no podemos olvidar la profundidad del reto único que el COVID-19 presenta en cada comunidad. Ahora más que nunca debemos poner mucha atención a la historia y dejarnos guiar por información actualizada y completa.