Columnists Mayor Eric Garcetti

COMMUNITY REPORT: Trying to stop the scourge of COVID-19 in South L.A.

By Mayor Eric Garcetti

Contributing Columnist

Too many black people are losing their lives to COVID-19.

This isn’t to say that the novel coronavirus itself discriminates as to whom it infects. Nobody is immune — no age group, no gender, no racial, religious or ethnic group is safe from the devastation of COVID-19.

We are all at risk — which is why we issued the Safer at Home order, are cautiously taking steps to safety, and taking every opportunity to expand testing for an unpredictable disease that moves silently through the population and has already killed more than 1,300 people in Los Angeles County.

Still, one of the plain and inescapable truths of the disease — and especially the way it kills — is that this novel coronavirus does discriminate in its disproportionate effect on African-Americans and other people of color. The numbers show that people with pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes and obesity are at a much higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 — and those ailments have historically hit communities of color the hardest.

People of color are more likely to live in multigenerational households where the disease may spread more quickly and lethally, and are also more likely to hold essential jobs that can’t be performed at home.

But the conversation can’t stop there, because there’s no getting around an equally painful fact: the fallout from generations of neglect, discrimination and bias still touches so many aspects of our lives, including a lack of access to medical care. COVID-19 has laid those consequences bare in ways that can’t be ignored and created new injustices that must be confronted.

Everything I have done as mayor has been about opening doors that have been closed for too long, helping to bring every child and every community to the same starting line, and acknowledging the scars of our history so that we can work to heal them.

Our approach to this crisis is no different. As we face down a pandemic, equity and access have to guide our decisions. Nowhere has that been more clear and immediate than in our testing strategy.

When early data showed COVID-19 was disproportionately impacting African Americans, we scaled up our response in historically black communities: quadrupling the size of a testing site at Crenshaw Christian Center, opening a walk-up location at Kedren Community Health Center in South Los Angeles, adding a site at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, and partnering with the county to add sites at the Forum in Inglewood and Charles Drew University in Willowbrook.

Thanks to these efforts, African-American Angelenos (together with Native Hawaiian Angelenos) now are getting tested at a percentage above their share of the population.

There is much more to be done. And to help keep equity as our primary lens every step of the way, I am proud to have named Capri Maddox as chief of COVID response equity for Los Angeles.

Maddox is a tireless advocate with years of experience working on behalf of the most vulnerable Angelenos –– the people being hit hardest during this crisis. She’ll work on strategies to help more low-income communities of color access available testing and get medical care when they need it –– for COVID-19 symptoms and for other life-threatening illnesses.

She will also work with partners to identify where the impact of this pandemic is unequal and build new strategies to protect people.

We will serve every Angeleno and provide resources to every community during this pandemic and long after.

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Every weeknight, I speak with Angelenos and share an update on the actions we’re taking to save lives and flatten the COVID-19 curve. These briefings always include reports on new case data, testing statistics and most tragically — the number of lives lost.

I always add a reminder that these are not just numbers — they’re neighbors.

Angelenos like Bishop Anthony Pigee Sr., whose life was taken by COVID-19 on April 8 at age 49. The bishop was a devoted husband to La’Vicia and the father of seven children, but his flock was much larger. Bishop Pigee founded Life of Faith Community Center in South L.A., and traveled the country to share his message.

The people who knew him best say there was no ceiling to his generous spirit — from making sure members of his congregation had enough food to feed their families to helping other pastors strengthen their ministries so that faith could take even greater hold in the community.

People who crossed Bishop Pigee’s path — who experienced his generosity, his compassion, his humanity — saw him as a blessing. The things we’re doing to stop the spread of the coronavirus are in his memory, and in honor of everyone we have lost.

Let’s be a blessing to one another during this crisis. Let’s stand with and comfort the families and friends left behind to grieve, remember and inspire all of us in the fight against this disease.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs monthly in The Wave.