Fairfax County Targets COVID-19 Disparities With Community Clinics, Outreach

Hispanic residents of Fairfax County are seven times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts when adjusted for variations in age, county data suggests.

Fairfax County Director of Epidemiology and Population Health Dr. Benjamin Schwartz reported that sobering trend to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during its health and human services committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday) as part of a broad overview of the county’s efforts to implement an equity-focused strategy to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

Knowing that the pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color, especially Black, indigenous, and Latino people, Fairfax County staff calculated the relative risk levels for infection, hospitalization, and death faced by different races and ethnicities, using white, non-Hispanic individuals as the control group.

According to the county, the results show that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is 1.8 times greater for Black people than for white people and four times greater for Latino or Hispanic people, who are also seven times more at risk of hospitalization.

In Fairfax County, Black people are being hospitalized at more than three times the rate of white people and are almost three times as likely to die from the disease.

Schwartz says the data focuses on community transmission, excluding long-term care facilities, and it has been adjusted for age, meaning it eliminates variances in age across different populations. It shows, for instance, that Latinos are more likely to die from or be hospitalized by COVID-19, even though the county’s Latino population is generally younger and older people are considered more at risk.

“This really highlights the social, economic, and medical risk factors pertaining to different groups in our county,” Schwartz said, mentioning large households, exposures through work, and underlying health conditions among the factors that have made some populations more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Fairfax County Chief Equity Officer Karla Bruce says the county is utilizing its COVID-19 Vulnerability Index as well as data showing the disease’s spread to identify areas that need a targeted approach for vaccine outreach and distribution, often because residents have limited access to medical care, transportation, and other public services.

“There are a lot of intersecting factors which are preventing people’s access to resources or access to the vaccine,” Bruce said. “So, we want to understand and look at how we might be better able to connect people to what will enable them to then connect to the vaccine.”

The county has been working with different community partners, including nonprofits and faith-based organizations, not only to counter vaccine hesitancy with education and trust-building, but also to identify people who are currently eligible to get vaccinated and register them for an appointment.

To improve the accessibility of the vaccine, the Fairfax County Health Department has been developing a network of community-based partner clinics that is expected to grow in the coming weeks, as seen in the slide below:

Schwartz says the Neighborhood Health federally qualified health center at the Bailey’s Community Center and the Safeway community clinic at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church will start administering vaccinations this coming weekend.

The health department is also looking at sites in Lorton, Springfield, and Centreville, but the agreements are still being finalized.

“It will take a couple of weeks to have our clinics established, to confirm medical and non-medical staff for those clinics, and to get into a rhythm with the vaccinations,” Schwartz said. “But we are anticipating making substantial progress to reduce disparities in who receives vaccination in the county.”

Photo via Fairfax County, slides via Fairfax County Health Department (1, 2)

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