Since the shocking and dramatic surge mid-summer of COVID-19 among our Latinx neighbors—peaking at almost 1,800 confirmed cases in July—the Latinx community has done a fantastic job of lowering infection rates. For the past two months, a little over 600 people have fallen ill each month, which represents a two-third drop since the summer. 

The grassroots mobilization of community leaders and organizations to respond to the crisis, while demanding resources and City attention to this Latinx Pandemic bore bitter fruit in late September, when Mayor Breed announced that $28.5 million would be redirected towards community organizations to support the Latinx community most impacted by the epidemic with expanded resources for testing and contact tracing, housing subsidies and eviction defense, food access and family support, and small business and workforce development. However, the rollout of these funds and programming is still in progress and cannot account for the changing contagion rates. It was prior efforts to reach out and support the Latinx community by members of the community itself that helped curb the Latinx epidemic.

The Latinx community sees COVID-19 rates go down

The rate of COVID-19 infections in the Latinx community has decreased to 39 percent of all COVID-19 cases compared to the sustained representation of over 50 percent of all cases since April. In September, the Latinx community started seeing a noticeable decrease in the number of confirmed cases. In fact, the number of monthly cases reported in the Latinx population remained nearly flat from September to November, even though the City was experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases.

That’s very good news, if limited, considering that the Latinx population—which is only 15 percent of the City population—continues to be overrepresented in COVID-19 cases. Latinx people continue to be an essential workforce of the City and have had to face the brunt of the epidemic in the City without sufficient and culturally-appropriate resources. We should feel extremely proud for their efforts to maintain good preventive practices and drive the case numbers down despite the recent Citywide surge in COVID-19 rates. The hope is that the Latinx community will continue to drive its infection rates down. In other words, we cannot slack off. No podemos aflojar.

The Citywide spike brings rising number of infections among white people

The spike in coronavirus cases is significant. Since Oct. 2, San Francisco has experienced a 250 percent increase in COVID-19 cases. The surge looks even more dramatic when we consider that the 7-day rolling average of daily confirmed cases jumped from an average of 29 to 122 cases a day from Oct. 9 to Nov. 8. That’s over a 400 percent increase in a 30-day period. Hospitalization rates increased 60 percent from last month, but fortunately flattened out after the initial increase.

But this surge is different in that it’s impacting a segment of the population that had remained less affected, until now. While the monthly count of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Latinx population has decreased by 50 percent since August, white people reported a 60 percent increase in new COVID-19 cases for the same period. Two months ago, white people represented 11 percent of all new cases, but in the last 14 days, they’ve come to represent 31 percent of all new confirmed cases. Which begs the question, what’s driving the change? 

Essentially, it’s still about inequality

The surge was driven by the reopening of indoor businesses. Since May, the City initiated a tiered-reopening of businesses, which by mid-June expanded to outdoor dining and activities. Feeling confident in its numbers, in mid-September the City moved to allow for indoor businesses to reopen with limited capacity. This included hair salons and barbershops, nail salons, massage establishments, tattoos and piercings, gyms and fitness centers, as well as places of worship and with political activities. By the end of September, certain businesses including restaurants and houses of worship were allowed to increase their indoor capacity to 50 percent capacity. By the second week of November, indoor activities, particularly restaurants and houses of worship, which previously had operated at 50 percent capacity, were shut down as the main culprits driving the surge.

Back in June, El Tecolote published a two-part special report on the Latinx population—“Essential, Sick and Marginalized” (Part 1 and Part 2) that discussed the social and economic inequalities that overexposed the Latinx population to the risk of contagion to COVID-19. Back in June, we had learned from the UCSF/Unidos en Salud study that of a sample test population in a densely populated census tract of the Mission District of those who tested positive 95 percent where Latinx and 90 percent of those positive cases represented people who could not stay at home to work. We also learned that no white people tested positive. 

As indoor businesses reopen and people with expendable income in a pandemic for indoor dining and other commodities stepped outside-to-step-inside, the cases among the white population increased.

 You add the numbers, but it appears that wealth inequality in a pandemic works both ways.