SOUTH LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Every year, more than 400,000 people turn to community health clinics in South Los Angeles and Compton.

Many have jobs, but live near poverty, others are undocumented or homeless, and their vulnerability during the coronavirus pandemic could have a ripple effect on everyone in Los Angeles.

“Grocery workers, car wash workers, many of the folks who take care of our children,” Jim Mangia, CEO of St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, said.

Mangia is talking about the working poor who traditionally turn to one of the 18 community health care centers he runs.

To separate those who have potentially contracted COVID-19 from those who visit the centers for routine check-ups and treatment, Mangia said tents have been set up outside of the clinics.

“If it weren’t for community health centers on the frontlines, all of these patients would be cramming the emergency rooms in order to get tests to get diagnosed,” Mangia said.

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And the job of diagnosing on the frontlines falls to dedicated health care professionals like Dr. Jonathan Olumoya, who works at a St. John’s center.

“It’s a very frustrating situation to not be able to test,” Olumoya said.

That lack of testing is not because the center does not want to test, but rather because test kits are in short supply.

“Last week, 879 patients that we saw, we were only able to test about a hundred of them,” Mangia said. “And of those 100-115, there were over 20 that tested positive.”

Those results show that about 20% of that group had been infected, which is why physicians who work in clinics with fewer resources are concerned about a potential domino effect that goes beyond their communities.

“If we don’t mitigate this, the ICUs are gonna run out of beds, run out of ventilators,” Olumoya said. “People are going to be refused care.”

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But that is only half of the story.

Mangia said that despite promises from the federal government that help is on the way in the form of personal protective equipment like masks and gowns, he has had to strike deals with companies in China in hopes of getting his staff through the end of the month.

Just last week, some workers at one of his clinics had only one mask to last them through the entire week.

“The federal government has clearly failed, and they have the capacity to mass produce and force mass production of the things we need on the frontlines,” Mangia said.

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But without enough testing, it’s not just the health care system that’s strained. Mangia said his patients are unable to go to work because they have to self-isolate not knowing if they have the coronavirus or are suffering from another illness — forcing them to lose compensation and put further strain on those essential services.

“It’s kind of like instead of using a scalpel, we’re using a hatchet,” Mangia said.

In Los Angeles County alone, more than 350 community clinics and health centers provide primary care and preventive services to 1.7 million patients every year.

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