San Francisco health officials knew since late March 2020, and certainly by April, that the Latinx population was being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 epidemic, and yet failed to take effective measures to address the crisis. While Latinx peoples are only 15 percent of the City population, according to official health data, we have at times represented 64 percent of all time confirmed novel coronavirus cases, and 84 percent of COVID-19 related hospitalizations.
The virus is revealing the systemic, normalized neglect of the Latinx community and essential workforce in established healthcare pathways. It was not until Aug. 28, 2020, when under pressure from the Latino Parity and Equity Coalition (composed of organizations with a longstanding history of service to the City’s Latinx population, including Acción Latina/El Tecolote) that Dr. Colfax, the director of the Health Department, named the crisis in the City for what it was—“the ongoing Latinx pandemic.” He also admitted that not enough had been done to support this community. Even then, another month went by before the Mayor committed $28.5 million in resources towards health, housing, food access, workforce, and small businesses to address the epidemic in the Latinx community. And still, today, the Latinx community accounts for the highest count and percentage of new cases and shows the greatest disproportionality in new case rates among all other groups by race and ethnicity.
Since the start of the epidemic, El Tecolote has sought to provide the most up-to-date information on the pandemic out to our readers. This included information about resources available to our Latino community, many of who were suddenly acknowledged as “essential workers,” while seemingly left to fend for themselves when it came to information of the severity of the virus, where and how to get tested, and what to do—and survive—if one tested positive. We also interviewed COVID-19 survivors and documented their stories for our other readers’ to learn from. Having the knowledge that the Latino community is a diverse one, we reported on the impact this virus had on San Francisco’s essential working Mayan Yucatec community. And recognizing that this was not only a San Francisco story, we began also to focus on the East Bay’s Mayan Mam community as well, and the efforts there to prevent new infections in an area that had seen skyrocketing COVID-19 rates.
The virus is revealing the systemic, normalized neglect of the Latinx community and essential workforce in established healthcare pathways.
With support from the Center of Health Journalism, El Tecolote launches an inquiry into San Francisco health authority’s efforts to reach our community during the “Latinx Pandemic.” At the heart of the project is a survey that will be developed through a community engagement process, and that will be answered by Latinx essential workers, both women and men, documented and undocumented, to better understand what sources of information shaped their behavior at the start of and during the continuation of the disease, and whether City efforts have reached them and shaped their behavior.
While we hope to learn how Latinx community members made decisions about whether to get tested, seek health care, and stay home from work based on the information they received from friends, relatives, news sources and government sources of information, and how this may have shifted over the course of the year, we are most interested in investigating and learning about adaptations made by the City to meet the needs of the Latinx populations. At this point of the pandemic with vaccines underway and concerns over vaccine safety in our community, we certainly hope the City has cared enough to take note of lessons learned and adapted to “meet” Latinx community members “where they were at.”
Beyond the results of the survey, we are excited to see how community engagement will also improve El Tecolote’s reporting to meet the interests of our bilingual and multigenerational readers and podcast listeners, whether they be sheltering-at-home or grinding away at essential jobs.