On Aug. 28, Mayor London Breed announced in a press conference a new tiered system for reopening services, businesses and activities in San Francisco that aims to move from reopening low-risk outdoor activities to low-risk indoor activities in September.
Dr. Grant Colfax, head of the Department of Health, took the mic after her. Stepping up to the podium, Colfax carefully washed his hands with hand sanitizer, only then removing his medical blue mask in a performative act of public hygiene, before launching into a report of COVID-19 in the City. He too gave hopeful news of slowly declining cases, but warned us that we were still in the red.
Then, he made a startling admission that had it been made five months ago in April he would have saved lives. Colfax called the spread of the virus in San Francisco “the Latinx pandemic,” with over half of all new cases still represented by Latinx peoples, despite Latinx making up only 15 percent of the total City population.
Colfax then admitted that the City had not done enough to support peoples with origin in Latin America and the Caribbean who have been disproportionately impacted by this disease since the start of the viral spread in the City. The belated admission of responsibility was immediately lacquered over by his announcement of a new $5 million grant program for community partners to increase healthcare, contact tracing, access to testing, education and communication about the disease and available resources.
But all of this is too little, too late, and it came with hush money for community organizations who have been in an uproar for months over the lack of an appropriate emergency response from the City to the rapidly spreading disease in the Latinx, Indigenous and immigrant community.
Below is an update on the latest COVID-19 case numbers according to City demographic data, but make no mistake, Colfax’s washing of the hands on public television is a real part of the story.
The running total
The cumulative total of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in San Francisco since March was at 10,031 on Sep. 5, with Latinx people representing 51 percent of all cases.
As access to testing increased month by month more COVID-19 cases were detected. From May to July, the total number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the City nearly doubled from month to month. During August, the total number of new confirmed cases in a monthly period finally declined significantly to indicate a decrease in the rate of spread. Unfortunately, the surge in testing reconfirmed the prevalence of the contagion among peoples with origin in Latin America and the Caribbean, who continue to be disproportionately impacted at nearly the same rate since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic in the City, which Colfax now calls the “Latinx Pandemic” in San Francisco.
The rise in COVID-19 confirmed new cases in the past two months was accompanied by a surge in hospitalizations. This is the real number to watch to understand how the spread of the epidemic is shifting. A demographic breakdown of hospitalizations also helps to confirm information about groups most impacted by COVID-19.
Last time this information was known was in April, when the Latinx population accounted for 84 percent of all hospitalizations. However, demographic data on persons hospitalized for COVID-19 is not publicly available in San Francisco. Despite repeated requests to 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, we have not received an update.
The death count
Our City is blessedly fortunate to have avoided the deaths seen in the thousands in other countries, even other states in this country, yet lives were still lost. On August 31, a cumulative total of 86 people—twice the number from June 1—had lost their lives due to COVID-19.
Demographic representation in the death count shifted with the rising death toll of the past two months. On June 1, of the 43 people who had died in San Francisco to the novel coronavirus, Asian people accounted for 46.5 percent of those deaths, and Latinx people 14 percent. The new data updated to August 31 shows that Asians now represent 35 per cent of all deaths, with Latinx people jumping into second place, accounting for 28 percent of all deaths.
The data sets provided by the City do not provide a breakdown of demographics for each death, but only for the cumulative total of deaths. But, extrapolating from available data, the Latinx population appears to have been hardest hit by new deaths counted in the past two month.
The names of those killed by COVID-19 are not known. We cannot name them in our altars.
Breed reopened the two-tiered system that steals a pound of flesh from each essential Indigenous, Latinx and immigrant service worker in this City, without granting even a basic social safety net.
Calmly, Colfax washed his hands in public.