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Latino community still the most impacted, as number of all new COVID-19 confirmed cases more than doubled from prior month

San Franciscans who trace their ethnic origin in Latin America (“Ola” people) are still the most impacted group by race and ethnicity in the city, as the number of new COVID-19 confirmed cases more than doubled from the prior month.

From the first month of testing it was clear to City officials that the Ola population of San Francisco was disproportionately impacted by the disease. The Ola population is approximately 15 percent, and in the first month of testing in the City, 32 percent of all new cases reported from March 5 to April 8 were Latinx/a/o.  The second trimester of the year saw an increasing representation of Ola people in new cases: 54 percent of new cases from April 9 to May 8; followed by 60 percent of new cases from May 9 to June 8. 

Recent figures from June 9 to July 8, show the Ola population to have decreased to 51 percent of all new cases for that month period, and in the last three weeks Latinx/a/o representations is at 49 percent. However, this is not a sign of improvement, since the total number of new confirmed cases in the City more than doubled from the prior period of May 9-June 8. This was an all-time high of 1642 new Covid-19 cases in a 30 day period, which might be surpassed soon, since in the last three weeks 1630 new Covid-19 cases have been confirmed.

This information is based on the open data sets provided by the Department of Health Services on data.sfgov.org. The data can be looked at in different ways by selecting different start and end dates. Due to our publication cycle, El Tecolote had previously reported data for the month period starting on the 9th of each month and ending on the 8th of the following month. To provide the most recent information, below we show the data on new Covid-19 cases for the last 30 days, June 27 to July 27. Here we see that the OLA population is holding at 49 percent of all new confirmed cases with a worrisome uptick in new cases represented by Black or African-American people to 7 percent of all new cases, and an increase in the percent of cases for which ethnicity or race is not known.

Race and ethnicity of people hospitalized is crucial information not shared.

A more accurate indicator of the impact of COVID-19 on specific demographic groups is the number of people hospitalized for confirmed COVID-19 cases by race and ethnicity. Knowing the demographic breakdown of hospitalizations helps to confirm information about groups who are most impacted by COVID-19. New confirmed cases are defined by who gets tested, and who has access to testing, therefore, testing information can potentially misrepresent a particular group. Knowing the demographic information of people hospitalized more accurately shows which the demographic group is being most impacted by the virus.

Unfortunately, the last time demographic information for COVID-19 related hospitalizations was made publicly known was in late April, when the Ola populations were noted to be 84 percent of all COVID-19 related hospitalizations when normally the Latina/o/x population is 34 percent of hospitalizations. The figures reported in April would indicate that the Ola population was being undercounted by COVID-19 tests. El Tecolote requested Dr. Vivek Jain, the director of the San Francisco General Hospital Infectious Diseases Clinic, in charge of tracking the numbers and demographics of COVID-19 related to hospitalizations at SFHG to provide an update, but we have not received a response after several inquiries. 

Access to this information appears more pressing with the rise in hospitalization rates last month. From May 9 to June 8, all COVID-19 hospitalizations (both confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases in acute care and ICU beds) had dropped from 100 to 51 patients, but hospitalizations are back on the rise with patients increasing from 49 to 125 from June 9 to July 27. This number does not include transfers to San Francisco hospitals from other counties.

The Department of Public Health does not mandate that hospitals report the demographic breakdown for hospitalizations of COVID-19 confirmed or suspected cases, and therefore, demographic data for hospitalizations is not available to the public. The Latinx/a/o community was blindsided by the start of the spread of the virus in the City, in part because access to information known to the City was not widely disseminated in a timely fashion from the start. Had this been the case, organizations that provide specialized outreach services to the Latinx community, some with a half of century of experience doing so, could have helped design and support a more adequate response.

Residents are tested for COVID-19 at the Latino Task Force Resource Hub mobile testing site on July 16, 2020. The testing site, located at 701 Alabama Street, operates on Thursdays from 10 am – 3 pm. Photo: Mike Kai Chen

On June 10, a coalition of 31 mission organizations, including Acción Latina which houses El Tecolote, wrote an open letter to Mayor Breed, asking: “How is it that the vulnerability of our community was not articulated by policymakers that could have put the community on alert and plan for their safety during this pandemic?” Mission leaders proposed a broader framework to identify and articulate public health vulnerability based on the data and experience of the Latinx community, and asked Mayor Breed, among other things, “to provide special assistance to increase access to food, healthcare, affordable housing, job-related services, and other economic support, now and through our community’s recovery.”

A month later, on July 9, the Mayor announced that a new mobile testing site would begin to operate in the Mission District on Thursdays from 10 am – 3 pm at 701 Alabama in coordination with services provided at the Latino Task Force Resource Hub. “This new site at the Latino Taskforce Resource Hub will give essential workers an easy and culturally competent access to testing and all the services available to them, including Right to Recover,” said District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen. 

Residents are tested for COVID-19 at the Latino Task Force Resource Hub mobile testing site on July 16, 2020. The testing site, located at 701 Alabama Street, operates on Thursdays from 10 am – 3 pm. Photo: Mike Kai Chen

The Right to Recover program is part of wraparound services provided by the City and community partners, which will provide two-weeks of financial support for up to 1,500 San Franciscans who test positive for COVID-19 so that they may focus on their health and recovery regardless of their immigration status. Based on San Francisco minimum wage, a two-week wage replacement amounts to $1,285. The Right to Recover was announced on July 2, and was made possible through a collaboration between Supervisor Ronen’s office and the GIV2SF Oversight Committee, which oversees the city’s COVID-19 response, as well as the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the Department of Public Health, and the Human Rights Commission. 

Yesterday, July 29, as part of the on-going collaborative efforts of UCSF and the Latino Covid-19 Task Force, another new testing site was opened on the 24th and Mission Street BART plaza to continue lowering the barriers to access to testing for essential works in the Ola community. 

This is all good and necessary basic efforts, but until the rates of hospitalization by race and ethnicity is reported transparently by the City, we may not be know just how bad things are for the Latinx/a/o community. 

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