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UCLA Fielding School of Public Health expert shares expertise about racism and the pandemic with Los Angeles city human rights officials

Professor Chandra Ford of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health shared her expertise about the impact of structural racism and the COVID-19 pandemic

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Chandra Ford, director of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health, was asked to present at the June 12 inaugural meeting of the new City of Los Angeles Civil & Human Rights Commission on the issue of structural racism and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Citing research from UCLA and across the United States, Ford, associate professor in the Fielding School’s Department of Community Health Sciences, shared that mortality rates associated with the pandemic are much higher for racial and ethnic minorities in the United States than the population as a whole, and that existing inequalities in health and access to health care lie at the root of those outcomes.

“Twenty four percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. - that’s more than 21,000 people - those deaths occurred among black people, if we only count the deaths where the race of the person who died was known,” Ford said, citing the nationwide totals, as of June 3. “This is true even though Black people only make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population … and in Los Angeles, as around the nation, stark inequities exist by race and ethnicity.”

As of June 5 in Los Angeles County, 29 out of every 100,000 Latinos, 31 out of every 100,000 people who are Black, and 31 out of every 100,000 Pacific Islanders, have died of COVID-19, compared to 15 out of 100,000 whites, records show.

“Given the salience of racism, prevention efforts can be considered to have focused - rather narrowly - on the virus itself, without considering the ways that the virus travels across populations that experience a variety of social inequalities,” Ford said. “As a result, it is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to exist in pockets of our society that are overlooked because of their marginalization, and to the extent that it does, it is likely to lead to a more extended and complex epidemic, especially among the most vulnerable members of our society, including racial and ethnic minority populations.”

Ford told the commissioners that without attention to the pre-pandemic realities, the situation is only likely to get worse.

“The problem is not simply that this virus exists; the problem is its transmission occurs among people and it spreads along the lines of inequalities that already exist in our society,” she said. “Disparities will expand or worsen, unless the underlying inequalities are addressed.”

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