Neighborhoods with significant Latino and Asian American populations in Los Angeles County are particularly vulnerable to economic uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report sponsored by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) and Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) at UCLA Luskin, along with Ong & Associates. “Entire communities are in a precarious financial situation, weakening the economic base in areas that already have a history of underinvestment and limited opportunities,” said Paul Ong, lead author and CNK director. According to the report, almost 60% of Latino-majority neighborhoods and 40% of Asian-majority neighborhoods will be affected; in comparison, 12% of white-majority neighborhoods will face the same level of economic disruption caused by the global pandemic. The report includes recommendations for state and local officials to support low-wage workers in Los Angeles County. “Latinos and Asian Americans are critical to the continued success of Los Angeles County’s economy, and the impact that their families and neighborhoods will see in this crisis requires urgent action,” said Sonja Diaz, LPPI executive director. Communities that will see the greatest impacts include neighborhoods in northeast Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley, Inglewood and the northeast San Fernando Valley, the report found. The affected neighborhoods also have a high concentration of foreign-born residents. “Now is the time for elected officials to ensure that low-wage workers have a safety net in this time of crisis to ensure the safety and well-being of all communities,” Ong said.
Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, wrote an opinion piece for the Sacramento Bee arguing that the enormous demands placed on California’s health care system as it grapples with COVID-19 will magnify longstanding racial and ethnic health disparities. Diaz cited research showing that access to health care among California’s Latinos continues to lag behind other groups, and that the state’s physician pool is not diverse enough to adequately serve its population. As the coronavirus crisis continues, the number of uninsured is likely to rise as businesses shut down or lay off workers, possibly cutting off employer-provided health insurance. Diaz argued that the state must act quickly to protect the health of communities of color and those living in poverty. “Put plainly, our state’s most vulnerable will wait until they are at their absolute worst to seek care, which will likely result in unnecessary loss of life during this pandemic,” Diaz wrote.
Cecilia Menjívar, a UCLA professor of sociology who is one of the faculty experts affiliated with the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, is a co-author of a recent opinion piece for CNN that contends that society would be better served by using the phrase “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing.” In the effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, “what health experts are really promoting are practices that temporarily increase our physical distance from one another in order to slow the spread of the virus. They are not recommending social disconnection, social exclusion or rampant individualism,” wrote Menjívar and co-authors Jacob G. Foster and Jennie E. Brand, who are also sociology faculty members at UCLA. “We must be physically distant now — our health depends on it. But we should redouble our efforts to be socially close. Our health depends on that, too.”
A new research paper examining the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak in Africa could hold crucial insights for policymakers grappling with the novel coronavirus pandemic — namely, the importance of public engagement and trust during health crises.
The study, co-authored by Assistant Professor of Public Policy Darin Christensen of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, shows that where people lack confidence in their health providers, they are less likely to seek testing and treatment when they feel sick. This stymies efforts to identify, treat and isolate infected patients to limit further contagion.
By the end of the Ebola outbreak in early 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were more than 28,000 cases of the disease in West Africa — with roughly half coming from Sierra Leone. Simple interventions that encouraged people to seek treatment increased reporting of Ebola cases by 60%, which the authors estimate reduced the virus’ reproduction rate by 19%.
“The epidemic generated tremendous fear, and families faced tough choices about whether to care for loved ones at home or report to clinics for testing and, if needed, isolation,” said Christensen, a political economist who holds a joint appointment with UCLA’s department of political science. “That choice may seem obvious in a rich country. But in poorer countries, like Sierra Leone, citizens often have little confidence that health providers will treat them with compassion or deliver effective care. Interventions that build that trust encourage timely testing — exactly what was needed to contain Ebola and, now, COVID-19.”
Conducted across 254 government-run health clinics covering approximately 1 million people — more than 15% of Sierra Leone’s population — the research tested the effects of two interventions aimed at increasing public involvement with, and trust in, the country’s health system.
Under the first intervention, community members participated in meetings with local health clinics, and articulated complaints and suggestions designed to improve health services.
The clinic staff also shared public health advice with community members, like encouraging women to come into the clinic to give birth. This experiment turned patients into “accountability agents who hold health system actors to account,” according to the paper.
The other intervention was an incentive program that gave out awards to health care workers at clinics that were doing a good job of providing services. The intent was to motivate providers to encourage their clinics to provide a higher quality of care.
The study found that these accountability interventions prior to the Ebola outbreak spurred a vast increase in testing and the reporting of Ebola cases — including those who tested both positive and negative for the virus. The reporting did not reflect higher rates of disease in the areas that benefited from the interventions. The higher rates of testing resulted in more effective containment, and ultimately, there were 30% fewer deaths among Ebola patients in the areas that benefited from the interventions.
As governments, particularly in less-developed countries, seek to contain the spread of COVID-19, “there has rightfully been a lot of focus on the test kits and other equipment needed to fight this virus,” Christensen said. “But it’s also important to think about how we encourage people to change their behavior — to get tested, to self-quarantine. Our research suggests that strengthening ties between health providers and the communities they serve could bolster containment efforts as the current pandemic spreads to poorer countries.
“Many governments don’t have the capacity or mandate to enforce strict restrictions on travel or gatherings,” Christensen concluded. “They must appeal to their citizens to voluntarily change behavior. The Ebola epidemic demonstrates that public engagement and confidence help determine whether people heed those calls.”
The study was co-authored by Christensen and Oeindrila Dube of the University of Chicago, Johannes Haushofer of Princeton University, Bilal Siddiqi of UC Berkeley and the Center for Effective Global Action, and Maarten Voors of Wageningen University. The research team also has a forthcoming companion piece that underscores the effectiveness of crisis-response measures that emphasize community engagement.
Experts from the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) at UCLA Luskin are weighing in on the financial burden that the COVID-19 health crisis is placing on public transit agencies. “The virtues of public transit are precisely at odds with coping with the pandemic. … We now have essentially a mandate to not move, to not have a lot of people together anywhere,” ITS Director Brian Taylor told the Hill. The article also quoted Emeritus Professor Martin Wachs, who leads research into transportation finance at ITS. Both ridership and sales tax revenues are down, Wachs said, but transit is “a public service that we must keep operating during the crisis because people who have no option other than transit need to shop for food and get to doctors’ offices and hospitals.” On Curbed LA, ITS Deputy Director Juan Matute said Los Angeles’ Metro system may be forced to cut service dramatically or delay work on key projects. He also noted that, once the health crisis has lifted, “if there’s a severe recession, people who are out of work but still need to get around will become reliant on Metro.”
Daniel J.B. Mitchell, professor emeritus of public policy and management, spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle about COVID-19’s impact on the California economy. In January, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a budget proposal that projected a multibillion-dollar surplus and new programs for housing, health care and wildfire prevention. A revised 2020-21 spending plan, due in May, will need to account for the widespread shutdown of the state’s economy due to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus. The economy has already suffered a “tremendous shock,” Mitchell said, and the period of rebuilding could last years. “If you create enough disruption, it’s not so easy to go back,” he said. “So you could be looking at a very prolonged period here in California where the underlying economy is not good.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the Guardian about Angelenos’ road habits during the time of coronavirus. Even when just a few businesses asked workers to stay home, congestion was down quite a bit, demonstrating how relatively small reductions in cars can generate big increases in road performance, Manville said. “That has lessons for us, because it does remind us that when things get back to normal, policies that nudge just a few people away from a trip at a busy time can have a huge impact,” he said. However, Manville doubted the current health emergency would reshape Angelenos’ long-term relationship to the road. “It would be one thing if we were under an order to still go to places, but not in cars — some of us would find we like walking or biking,” he said. “But there’s no reason to think we will develop a different travel habit while we’re sitting on our couches.”
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to CNN about a proposal to send economic stimulus checks to Americans to help them weather the financial impact of COVID-19. As part of a broader economic stabilization plan, the direct government payments to millions of people are seen as a move that could provide quick relief, if not full insulation from the economic shock of the coronavirus. Akee said the payments are especially urgent in households struggling to buy groceries, pay rent and cover car payments, to provide stability until the crisis is over and Americans can return to work. “There are household expenses that people are very concerned about,” he said. “That’s why this cash payment is crucial.”
Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke with KQED about the disparities in benefits that contract workers experience compared to full-time workers — a gap that has been put into sharp focus by the coronavirus outbreak. At big tech firms, in particular, a significant number of workers are contractors who receive vastly different benefits and pay packages. In the current pandemic, offers to allow employees to work from home may not apply to contractors, for example. Tilly said that white-collar contracting, which is also on the rise in a number of industries beyond tech, creates a “fissuring” of the workplace. “These fissures undermine the U.S. safety net, which depends crucially on employment status, since contractors are considered self-employed and generally receive no benefits at all,” he said. “An emergency situation like the current one worsens the impact of the inequities, and intensifies confusion and the complexities of mounting an effective response.”
Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the COVID-19 outbreak’s effect on L.A. freeway traffic. As reported cases of COVID-19 surge in Los Angeles County, residents are following recommendations to stay at home and avoid public spaces, resulting in strangely empty freeways. Urban planning experts explain that reducing the number of vehicles on the road by a small amount can greatly reduce freeway traffic. “Pretty much every freeway lane in L.A. experiences some degree of this phenomenon: Everything is going fine, then suddenly it all slows down,” said Matute, an urban planning lecturer at the Luskin School. Freeway lanes have the capacity to support between 2,000 and 2,400 vehicles per lane per hour, but traffic grinds to a halt when lanes hit their capacity. On some freeways, reducing the number of cars by 5% could cut rush hour travel time in half, experts say.