By Ashley Orona
SOUTH GATE — A new drive-through COVID-19 testing site opened July 27 as part of Los Angeles County’s efforts to expand testing access to the county’s “high-need areas.”
The testing site at South Gate Park is available through a partnership between Los Angeles County and Fulgent Genetics, a certified genetics lab in Los Angeles. The testing site will have the capacity to test almost 2,000 residents a day, five days a week. All testing is done inside of the vehicle and by appointment only.
The city has one of the highest number of confirmed cases in Los Angeles County, with 3,403 confirmed cases as of Aug. 2 and a case rate of 3,367 per 100,000 people.
COVID-19 has heavily impacted low-income areas and certain racial groups. Latinos make up almost 60% of COVID-19 cases in L.A. County, despite totaling a little less than half of the population. South Gate’s population is 95% Latino, while 19% of city residents live in poverty.
City officials are hoping the new testing site will help slow the spread of COVID-19 here and in neighboring cities by identifying individuals who need to isolate and receive medical care.
There are many factors that make South Gate a “high-need area” for testing, according to City Councilwoman Denise Diaz.
Diaz said the city’s dense population, with multi-generation households and a lack of access to health care make residents more susceptible to the coronavirus.
A lot of residents have chronic conditions like asthma, because of pollution from nearby freeways and industrial sites, putting them more at risk to complications from COVID-19.
“Just by living in the Southeast, we lose 10 years of life because of the pollution,” Diaz said.
South Gate and neighboring cities like Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park and Vernon have experienced severe economic impacts due to the pandemic. The area has one of the highest concentrations of Latino and undocumented individuals in California, according to the “Living and Working in SELA” survey conducted by the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.
Using data collected in late 2019, the survey captured the social, economic and health inequities impacting Southeast Los Angeles. An update conducted during the pandemic showed that many respondents lost their jobs or had their hours reduced because of COVID-19.
The update also revealed that 41% of respondents work outside the home in essential jobs such as retail, the food industry and janitorial or cleaning services, potentially exposing them to the virus.
Access to COVID-19 testing is also a problem. The survey showed that only 15% of respondents had been tested; 47% would like to be tested but have not been able to get one; and 36% do not wish to be tested, potentially driven by the fear of losing their job.
There are currently only a handful of testing centers in Southeast Los Angeles, including in South Gate, for a region with 437,000 people.
The online appointment form can also be a barrier to testing. Some residents at a recent workshop hosted by the local community-based organization Juntos Florence-Firestone Together (disclosure: the reporter is a founder of this organization) said that the online questionnaire is lengthy and difficult for some community members to complete.
This is especially true for undocumented residents, since the application asks for information they may not have, such as a Social Security number and a valid form of identification. Although the application is also available in Spanish, first generation immigrants may still have trouble because of a lack of proficiency in written Spanish and a lack of technological literacy.
Beyond testing, some South Gate residents still believe the city is not doing enough to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“I have personally been affected by COVID-19 and now more than ever believe in stay-at-home orders,” said resident Nicholas Delgadillo. “I think South Gate should shut down non-essential businesses again, including outdoor dining. It’s tough but if staying at home saves lives then that’s a small price to pay in the long run.”
While walk-up appointments are currently not available, the city of South Gate is working on a program to provide transportation for community members to make testing more accessible, similar to the city of Bell, which offers taxi pick-up for residents if they need to access a drive-through testing site.