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Frontline workers, communities of color bear the brunt of California’s coronavirus surge

California broke new records this week with the coronavirus, prompting officials to order restrictions in more than 90 percent of that state. Stephanie Sy reports on the situation in Los Angeles County, where frontline workers and communities of color are being hit hard.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's turn now to the impact of COVID's resurgence in many states, and take a look at how it's hitting California hard, despite the state's earlier success.

    California broke new records with the virus this week, leading officials to order new restrictions in more than 90 percent of the state, at least until December 28.

    Stephanie Sy reports that, in Los Angeles County, front-line workers and communities of color are bearing the brunt of the pandemic's toll.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    At the Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, COVID-19 patients are often first seen in the emergency department, where Dr. Greg Moran works.

  • Greg Moran:

    Most of those people, we do a swab on them, we check them out, make sure that they're stable, check their oxygen level, and we send them home.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But too many have ended up in the ICU, where DR. Nader Kamangar sees patients.

  • Nader Kamangar:

    In my 20 years of being an intensivist and an ICU pulmonary specialist, this is the worst I have ever experienced.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    This man had pneumonia, brought on by coronavirus. He was placed belly down, a technique doctors have learned can help oxygenate blood in COVID patients and save lives.

  • Nader Kamangar:

    It's room after room of critically ill patients with COVID. By the time they make it to the ICU, they oftentimes require being placed on a mechanical ventilator.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    A critical shortage of experts who can operate ventilators and deliver high-flow oxygen is a bigger problem than physical capacity.

  • Greg Moran:

    In certain types of disasters, like if there's an earthquake here, we can bring in people from outside who can help out and provide some of that care. This is a disaster that's happening simultaneously all across the world

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Compared to a month ago, L.A. County now has five times the rate of hospitalizations and nearly four times the number of daily deaths.

    At a briefing earlier this week, grief overcame the health director, Barbara Ferrer.

  • Barbara Ferrer:

    Over 8,000 people — sorry — over 8,000 who were beloved members of their families are not coming back.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    New restrictions began this week in most of California. All restaurant dining, even outdoors, is banned. So is nonessential travel. Beach-going is OK, and now also playgrounds, but only after an outcry from parents. Some question the lockdown.

  • Woman:

    His school shut down, and he started putting on a lot of weight and started, like, just getting bored. So, I was just like, OK, we have things to do during this time, but what about the kids?

  • Question:

    Right.

  • Woman:

    So, it's very confusing.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Where there was an existing gap between how COVID affected people of color and white people, the latest surge shows a chasm.

    Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith is dean at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in South Los Angeles.

  • Deborah Prothrow-Stith:

    The Latinx community in particular here in Los Angeles is really experiencing this third surge, if you will.

    But the deaths are just tragic, and both in Black and brown communities, you have higher death rates.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    L.A. County reports that it's seeing new COVID cases among Latino residents at more than double the rate of white residents.

  • Jacqueline Gonzalez:

    I lost my job. I lost my housing.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The pandemic has torn apart 30-year-old Jacqueline Gonzalez's life.

  • Jacqueline Gonzalez:

    Due to the point of the COVID, I had reduced hours, little by little, reduced days. Schools were closed. The kids were unable to go. I didn't have nobody to leave my kids.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    She says she was forced to leave her job at McDonald's, and now she's homeless and living in a shelter, which makes her and her four children even more vulnerable to contracting the virus.

  • Barbara Kappos:

    There's a pandemic within the pandemic.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Barbara Kappos is the executive director of the East Los Angeles Women's Center.

  • Barbara Kappos:

    For many of our families we're working with, they don't have the rent to pay, adding that to whatever hardships they had before. And now, because of COVID-19, this has multiplied.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    All these problems will continue to get worse, unless more people follow prevention guidelines, say officials, which is why outreach workers armed with informational flyers are fanning out to hot spots, from shopping centers to streets.

  • Paul Carrillo:

    We hope to educate people, and get them to practice better behavior.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Some outreach workers have not had an easy go of it. Jazmin Flores said one of her colleagues was spat on.

  • Jazmin Flores:

    He just turned around and spit on his face, like, coughed really, really hard. And he just left.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Is there a trust issue between some of these communities of color and government?

  • Deborah Prothrow-Smith:

    There are trust issues for generations. And I think surveys of Latinx and African-American communities make it very clear that people are very skeptical of the vaccine.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Longstanding inequities in health and education and the undertow of pandemic fatigue have culminated in a perfect storm raging in hospitals.

  • Nader Kamangar:

    I don't want to be an alarmist, but we are struggling. And I see this on a day-to-day basis on the faces of our nurses, our staff, our young doctors, our residents, who really are grappling with this, not only the burden of the number of patients we have to take care of, but just the sheer amount of time that we have been under this stress.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Surgeries have been canceled. And if things get much worse, the next step would be rationing care to those deemed most likely to survive, a crisis mode that not so long ago was unthinkable in the Golden State.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.

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