Starting today, California requires counties to address pandemic inequality before reopening

As California counties await today's announcement of whether or not they will move down a level on the state’s tiered reopening system, state officials are taking a big step in addressing the pandemic’s racial and income disparities.

The Governor's office has long acknowledged that the virus has hit poorer areas harder, areas that often house communities of color and essential workers. Latinos make up about a quarter of the population in Santa Clara County but 57% of the county’s cases.

The state is now requiring counties to address those hot spots before being allowed to reopen their economies. The new “health equity” metric, which goes into effect today, asks counties to identify the hardest hit areas and come up with a plan to reduce infections there. The results could impact a county’s ability to move down a tier and reopen.

Jane Garcia is CEO of Oakland's La Clinica de la Raza, which held a massive testing drive near the Fruitvale BART station in September. They found a 3% test positivity rate, more than double Alameda County’s seven-day rate of 1.4%.

Garcia says when you look even closer at parts of the community, the disparity is even more apparent.

"For La Clinica patients, they’re testing at 20%, and that rate is down. It has been consistently 30% for, I don’t know, three months,” she said. “What this shows is that we’re starting to see the numbers – positive numbers - decline. And this is consistent to what our experience is at the health center. There’s still a huge disparity."

She said it demonstrates the need for initiatives like bilingual contact tracing or bigger stipends for essential workers who get sick, so that they can stay home without taking a pay cut that they cannot afford.

State officials say the new metric should force counties to address the pandemic inequity and historical disparities in Latinx, Black and Pacific Islander communities.