South LA health clinics start mass COVID-19 testing to bridge racial disparities, point to other inequities

On Monday, a network of nonprofit health centers took a big step, reaching out to under-served communities in Los Angeles County.
SOUTH LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Every day, we see more data revealing the grave racial disparities that surround the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, a network of nonprofit health centers took a big step, reaching out to under-served communities in Los Angeles County.

So far, of the 9,000 laboratory-confirmed, positive COVID-19 tests in Los Angeles County, nearly a tenth of them are people who live in South Los Angeles.

St. John's Well Child and Family Center CEO Jim Mangia said, "Many of these folks who we serve in South L.A. are cleaning our homes, are taking care of our children, are our grocery workers, our truck drivers and we need to protect them."

Mangia said his 18 locations plan to start testing about a thousand people per week. It's something they couldn't do until now.

"The fact that inner city communities like South Los Angeles, which has the largest concentration of African Americans in the county of Los Angeles, and the fact that we haven't had those tests kits is very significant," he said.

A CDC study of COVID-19 found 33 percent of those who have been hospitalized are African American. And in South Los Angeles, Mangia points to another disparity: unequal access to experimental treatments such hydroxychloriquine and Remdesivir.

"We have 12 patients that are in local hospitals," Mangia said, "But they don't have access to the same drugs that they do in some of the more affluent hospital areas."

Minority groups tend to have higher percentages of people without health insurance. Mangia said 40 percent of the patients he sees are uninsured. Although he's not sure who's going to pay for those tests, he said it needs to be done to control the spread.

"We think that our patients are incredibly vulnerable and susceptible to getting COVID-19 because of their work situations, because of their living situations." Mangia said. "St. John's is proud to be on the front lines caring for the most vulnerable communities for the homeless, for the working poor for the undocumented, and we all need to support each other."

He said his network of nonprofit clinics have about two to three weeks left of medical masks, but they're running low on face guards, goggles and gowns.

And with the added testing, his staff may burn through personal protective equipment even faster.

St. John's Well Child and Family Clinic is expanding their efforts and setting up testing at an elementary school in Compton next week. They ask that residents call one of their clinics to set up an appointment.
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