Mortality Rate for Latinos in Los Angeles in Recent Months Is Worse Than That of White Residents for the First Time in the Last Decade

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Photo courtesy of BELatina.

During the worst months of the COVID-19 pandemic, much was made of the famous “Latino paradox.” This was a public health phenomenon in which the Hispanic community, despite being more likely to have lower incomes, more chronic health problems, and less access to medical care, had better mortality rates than other demographics.

Now, two years later, this phenomenon appears to be reversing.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, for the first time in the last decade, the death rate for Latinos in Los Angeles County was worse than that of white residents, starting in 2020 — the first year of the pandemic — and worsening the following year.

Latinos also suffered the most significant percentage increase in death rates for all reasons among the four racial and ethnic groups analyzed by Los Angeles County between 2019 and 2021. The death rate for Latino residents in Los Angeles County increased 48% over that period, from 511 deaths per 100,000 Latino residents to a rate of 756.

The increase in the Latino death rate was double the increase in the death rate for all L.A. County residents, which increased by 23%. L.A. County officials argue that the rise in deaths overall is directly related to the pandemic.

What’s really going on?

“The reality is that it’s not a surprise,” Dr. Ilan Shapiro, medical affairs officer and chief medical correspondent for AltaMed, a Latino health care provider based in Southern California, told NBC News.

For decades, Latinos have experienced social determinants of health such as environmental pollution, food insecurity, and chronic disease, among others that have created the “perfect storm” during the pandemic, said Shapiro, a Mexican-American physician who has been involved in Latino health outreach, including nationally and in Mexico.

“The [Latino] community is made out of essential workers, and we have a very diverse workforce,” Shapiro said. “But if you put that on top of what’s happening, a lot of our family members don’t even have insurance. They cannot afford it, or they can’t get it.”

“It wasn’t two years; it’s a reflection of decades of problems, social determinants of health,” Shapiro said. He added it’s essential to create a health structure “where everybody’s represented.”

A paradigm shift

This new public health phenomenon is not an enigma for Chicano activist Carlos Montes, a Boyle Heights resident. Agreeing with Shapiro’s assessment, Montes told the LA Times it is a long-standing process.

While older generations maintained close family ties, where an enduring sense of family held Latinos together, helped lengthen life spans, and compensated for the disadvantages caused by chronic illness, this paradigm is changing.

During the pandemic, those close family ties became a source of contamination risk, especially when many Latinos were essential workers. To make matters worse, many chronically ill Latinos had their medical care interrupted during the pandemic.

In addition, long-term exposure in highly contaminated areas has taken a toll on the overall health of our community.

By all accounts, the pandemic has accelerated a process that had been years in the making and has highlighted the significant racial disparities in public health in the United States.