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L.A. Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer spoke to the Venice Family Clinic on Oct. 30 about the intersection of the COVID-19 crisis and racial justice.

The Venice Family Clinic is a nonprofit community health center that provides quality comprehensive healthcare to 28,000 people in need each year. The organization has spent 50 years working toward equal access in the health care system.

This summer they led a series of discussions on healthcare and racial justice and for this event invited CNN “This is Life” Host Lisa Ling to interview Dr. Ferrer.

Ferrer explained how the virus has magnified racial and socio-economic disparities across LA and the ways in which organizations like VFC are helping lessen those inequalities. She also explored future possibilities for the homeless population, low incomes communities, and the rollout of a vaccine.

Early on in the pandemic there were alarming statistics on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in communities of color. In the early days of the pandemic, Latinx, African American, and Pacific Islander populations were between two to four times more likely to be infected, hospitalized, and die from COVID-19, according to Ferrer.

Thankfully, progress has been made.

“Since July we’ve narrowed those gaps across the board,” said Ferrer. “African Americans, which started with some of the highest mortality rates, a couple of weeks ago was one of the lowest mortality rates. We still see a significant amount of disproportionality between the Latinx communities compared to others, but even that has dropped to two times the rate of other communities instead of being four times the rate of other communities.”

Some of the earlier inequalities were due to the high proportion of essential workers who are people of color. These people were working every day in January, February, and March, before we were all wearing masks and before we understood that you can pass the virus without having symptoms, according to Ferrer.

Ferrer emphasized that these disparities are not unique to coronavirus, but are present for many diseases and health care outcomes.

“If you look across at all of the diseases we track over time, you will see enormous disproportionality in the impact of disease among communities of color and people with less resources,” said Ferrer. “The root cause of that is related to the impact of racism on preventing people from having opportunities and resources that are absolutely essential for good health.”

The Venice Family Clinic is one of several organizations stepping in to provide missing resources, which have helped close the gap in COVID-19 health outcomes.

“We must ensure that everyone has access to care. At Venice Family Clinic our low income patients face unique challenges that require vital resources. These resources not only include medical care, but also shelter for our neighbors experiencing homelessness and support for patients with food insecurity,” said VFC’s Chief Medical Officer Despina Kayichian.

Looking forward, Ferrer warned that many people may not initially trust a vaccine and that this could be pronounced in communities of color which have experienced historical incidents of medical abuse in the testing of new treatments and medicines.

“Some of the work in front of us right now is to listen in communities that have been hardest hit about what they would like to see in order to feel comfortable with a vaccine, and then try to make sure that those conditions exist,” said Ferrer.

While we wait for an eventual vaccine Ferrer emphasized the need for us to all continue diligently following COVID-19 restrictions. She warned that last week’s spike in cases could lead to a greater increase and stricter shutdown measures if people continue to relax their behavior.