SOUTH LOS ANGELES – People regularly line up down the street at the St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in South L.A. waiting to get a COVID-19 test before the doors even open at 8 a.m.

Laidro and his wife, Ingrid, stood on that line three weeks ago. Both of their tests came back positive.

What You Need To Know

  • Latinos in L.A. are twice as likely to be diagnosed with coronavirus as white people

  • PPE, test swabs and other vital supplies have been diverted from South and East LA to wealthier areas

  • Many Latinos work essential jobs and were among the first back to work when the economy reopened

Laidro first felt symptoms around July 8, while working on his job as a forklift driver at a soup factory.

“I felt a pain in stomach and began to feel disoriented. Then I got muscle and body aches, and a fever,” he said.

Five to six hundred people a day are showing up at the 17 St John’s Center locations around Los Angeles. President and CEO, Jim Mangia, says 25 to 30 percent of the predominantly Latino patients are now testing positive for COVID-19.

“I think it points to the things that we deal with at St. John's every single day which are the health disparities and the violations of health and human rights which our communities experience day in and day out," said Mangia.

The racial disparity in coronavirus infections is becoming more evident based on new statistics. On June 30, the LA County Department of Public Health confirmed 2,779 new cases and 45 new deaths due to COVID-19. Of those who died, 43 percent of deaths occurred among Latino/Latinx residents. Latino residents are also more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with the virus as white residents. 

St. John’s centers created a daily internal COVID task force back in March, and tried to secure PPE equipment and test kits for the centers. But the majority of the supplies were diverted to wealthier areas.

“Our traditional labs were sending those test kits to the West Side, where the health insurance rates are much, much higher and the payment is much, much higher. And in South L.A. and East L.A., and low income areas throughout L.A. County, we could not get test swabs," said Mangia.

The St. John’s centers saw a huge surge in COVID cases after the economy opened up in California at the end of May. Many people in the Latino community were the first to return to essential jobs.

“Many of our patients and community residents who are testing are being infected at work. They're not being given masks and protective gear. They're being forced to work without social distancing. They're getting infected at work, and then they're bringing it home to their families,” Mangia said.

That’s exactly what happened to Laidro and Ingrid, who ended up infecting two of their four children.

“I was really in fear for my kids. Three of them began to have symptoms, and two came out positive. But they’re all OK now,” said Laidro. 

St. John’s medical team monitors the health of patients after they’ve tested positive. One of their major efforts right now is contact tracing. They ask people for the names and numbers of the last 10 people they were in contact with, and then a member of the staff calls those people and asks them to come in to be tested.

If they test positive, they’re given information about how to self-quarantine and where to get additional medical assistance if they need it.

Mangia says his team is working tirelessly to reduce the spread of COVID by opening the doors to more resources. 

“Our goal is to reduce the health disparities and make sure that our communities, the African American and Latino communities of South L.A. have the same access to testing and treatment and triage and services that everyone else does,” he said.

Laidro and Ingrid will return to St. John’s in a few days to see if they finally test negative so that they can return to work. In the meantime, they’re both out of work.