One in Five Californians Know Someone Who Died of COVID-19

Cherri Murphy, a minister at Speak Life Ministries, speaks during a 'Stike for Black Lives' rally at a McDonald's restaurant on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland on July 20, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Nearly 20% of Californians know someone who has died of COVID-19, a rate that’s significantly higher for people of color and low-income residents, according to a new poll from the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF).

Among respondents, 10% of white people reported knowing someone who had died of the virus, while that rate rose to 29% for Latinx people, 28% for African Americans and 19% for Asian Americans.

Meanwhile, 26% of low-income respondents of all races said they knew someone who had died.

California Health Care Foundation/Ipsos survey of California residents age 18+. (Courtesy of CHCF)

Those discrepancies are not surprising to Andrea Polonijo, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Riverside School of Medicine, where she studies health disparities.

“We know that Black and Latinx populations have disproportionately been diagnosed with the virus and disproportionately have died of the virus,” she said.

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Black and Latinx residents make up the majority of California’s front-line workers, and many have had to continue doing their jobs through the pandemic, often without appropriate personal protective equipment, she said. Consistent with the rest of the country, California has seen a spate of outbreaks at essential workplaces across the state — from meatpacking plants and farms to construction sites — exposing scores of workers to the virus.

“Every day when they go to work, they're putting themselves at risk of getting the virus or potentially dying,” Polonijo said.

CHCF surveyed 1,209 people in either English or Spanish over five days in late August.

Poll respondents were also asked how they felt about sheltering in place and reopening the economy, with seven in 10 saying they strongly or somewhat strongly support stricter shutdown measures to slow the spread of the virus.

California Health Care Foundation/Ipsos survey of California residents age 18+. (Courtesy of CHCF)

“That’s a clear message here,” said Kristof Stremikis, director of market analysis and insight at the CHCF. “The vast majority of the state is saying public health before economic health.”

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Poll respondents were also asked where they stood on shelter-in-place restrictions related to specific outcomes. When asked if they would like to see stricter rules if it meant fewer deaths, 85% said they would either strongly or somewhat support such measures.

“Californians are highly motivated, or highly supportive of stricter measures if they're going to specifically prevent deaths,” Stremikis said.

But the survey also found stark demographic differences in who was most likely to support those more stringent measures that could prevent additional deaths, with strong support from 75% of Black and 65% of Latinx respondents, but only 54% support from white respondents.

California Health Care Foundation/Ipsos survey of California residents age 18+. (Courtesy of CHCF)

Stremikis said that difference may well reflect higher rates of infection and death in Black and Latinx communities.

“This (pandemic) is particularly tragic for people with low incomes, as well as Black and Latino Californians,” he said.