Over 11% of Orange County residents have already had the coronavirus, but it’s hit the Latino community and working-class residents especially hard, according to a study released by UC Irvine researchers today.
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Latinos have been hit the hardest, with 17% of the community on average having antibodies — meaning they’ve had the virus before. Working class, poor residents have a 15% antibody rate.
“I think these findings are consistent with some of the hospital testing data that have come out in Orange County,” said Bernadette Boden-Albala, founding dean of the UCI Public Health program, at a Wednesday news conference.
“COVID-19 is a disease of disparities and Latino populations and low-income residents had the highest rates,”
UCI and the Orange County Health Care Agency surveyed roughly 3,000 OC adults to determine the percentages.
Since the pandemic began in March, numerous public health experts and sociologists have told Voice of OC that the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Latino and poor communities stems from overcrowded housing, lack of access to health care and not having the ability to work from home.
Researchers also noted the situation pushing rates higher in the Latino community.
“Greater prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 among Hispanics may arise from work in settings that do not allow for physical distancing, work under hazardous conditions due to economic necessity, and residence in relatively dense housing conditions,” reads the report.
OC Health Care Agency’s Medical Director of Communicable Disease, Dr. Matt Zahn, said the study shows the county is a long way off from herd immunity, which would be if at least 70% of residents had the disease.
“The prevalence of infection is higher than what we identified previously, but we’re still far from herd immunity,” Zahn said at the news conference.
While case counts for low-income working class neighborhoods are unavailable from the county Health Care Agency, data shows that Latinos have 48 percent of all cases in OC and make up 35 percent of the population. Latinos also have over 45 percent of the deaths.
And the pandemic has hit Anaheim and Santa Ana the hardest, where many working class Latino neighborhoods are.
The two cities, which make up over 21 percent of OC’s population, have 43 percent of deaths and 36 percent of confirmed cases.
Since the pandemic kicked off in March, the virus has killed 1,467 county residents out of 59,213 confirmed cases, according to the county Health Care Agency.
For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, according to state health data. According to those same statistics, the flu kills about 543 OC residents annually.
Tim Bruckner, a UCI associate professor of public health, said the newly released study shows the coronavirus is worse than the flu.
“There was this narrative that the infection fatality risk of COVID, if were were to count all individuals, it would be no worse than the seasonal flu. With this study, that proves that’s not the case,” Bruckner said at the news conference.
Hospitalizations saw a slight uptick Wednesday, with 177 people hospitalized, including 60 in intensive care units.
State public health officials are requiring counties to lower test positivity rates in poor, often minority neighborhoods before they can advance to the next tier on the state’s four-tiered reopening system.
That means OC has to lower the testing positivity to less than 5.2 percent in its poorest neighborhoods before advancing to the Orange Tier.
According to state data, the positivity rate for the poorest areas of OC is 6% — that’s up from 5.6% about a week ago.
Zahn said the virus continues to hit the Latino community especially hard.
“It continues to disproportionately affect the Hispanic community,” he said. “That’s when we’re talking about the number of cases and the burden of severe disease as well.”
The county currently sits in the Red Tier, which allows for limited indoor operations in gyms, churches, restaurants, malls, movie theaters, beauty salons and retailers.
A move to the Orange Tier would mean OC could allow more people inside the already open businesses, while also opening up bowling alleys and bars for outdoor operations.
Although many bars in North OC are already open — some have outdoor operations and others are serving up drinks indoors.
In June, the county Health Care Agency partnered with the Santa Ana-based nonprofit Latino Health Access to bring testing, education and quarantine resources — like motel vouchers — to the hardest hit neighborhoods in Anaheim and Santa Ana.
At one point, testing rates in some of those neighborhoods were as high as 20%.
The program has been effective, Latino Health Access CEO America Bracho previously told Voice of OC.
County data shows some Anaheim and Santa Ana neighborhoods have testing positivity rates ranging from 4 to 8%, but still much less than the double digit percentages from a couple months ago.
A host of Asian American and Pacific Islander groups are looking to mirror Latino Health Access’ efforts in other parts of the county after recently partnering with the OC Health Care Agency a couple weeks ago.
Meanwhile, some county Supervisors are railing against the new state requirement to lower virus rates in the poor neighborhoods.
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel has been one of the loudest critics of the health equity measure.
“Despite the fact that Orange County’s hospitalizations have remained under 200 for a month …. The state is using a top-down one size fits all approach for all 58 counties,” Steel said at a news conference last Thursday. “This is harming our residents who need work, small businesses and the communities that rely on them.”
Boden-Albala said the state’s health equity metric is needed because the study, “really reinforces the need for that disparity index because you could see this huge variability, if you will, with the county overall at 11.5% and the Latinx overall at 17%.”
“If it’s’ in the county, then it’s in the county,” she said. “This health disparity index helps keep that transmission at bay.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio