Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he has “not a lot of regrets” over how the country’s second-largest city has handled the coronavirus pandemic, which has surged among the city’s Latinos and across California in recent weeks.
In an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt, Garcetti said the city of roughly 4 million was the first major city to mandate masks and the first to have public testing for people without symptoms. (In fact, Houston offered public tests for asymptomatic people about two weeks before Los Angeles did.)
Garcetti said Los Angeles has tried to protect two demographics that have been hit hard — the homeless and Black people.
“I think we’ve probably done the best job of a vulnerable city protecting our people,” he said.
Los Angeles’ homeless have a lower infection rate than people who have homes, Garcetti said. He attributed the difference to mass testing, mask distribution and the placement of 6,000 people who were on the streets in shelters.
The shift comes as the number of people experiencing homelessness continues to rise, according to the city’s annual count, which was released last month.
Garcetti, a Democrat who was first elected in 2013, said the city also scaled back a once-soaring death rate among Black people through neighborhood testing and “putting messaging out there.”
“My message is stick with what we do know,” he said. “Masks, washing surfaces and hands, and physical distancing, staying at home when you can.”
But among Latinos, the city’s positivity rate has risen by 16 percent in the last couple of months, Garcetti said, adding that COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is increasingly “becoming a Latino disease.”
That reflects a broader trend across California, where Latinos make up 56 percent — or 167,650 — of the state’s positive cases, according to state data. Latinos make up 45 percent of the state’s coronavirus deaths, even though they are just 38 percent of the state’s population.
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Experts have linked the disproportionate impact on Latinos to several factors, including the likelihood that they are essential workers who are more likely to live in densely populated areas and to use public transportation.
According to the Los Angeles County Health Department, the city’s positive case rate of 1,772 people per 100,000 is lower than in several other cities in Los Angeles County. As of Monday, the city of Los Angeles had 71,661 confirmed cases and 2,034 deaths, according to the county.