Transparency on the COVID-19 epidemic in the Latinx community continues to be badly communicated by the City. After much insistence on our part, a new all-time open dataset for confirmed COVID-19 cases by race and ethnicity was made available on Friday June 12 through the website Data SF Gov. We were undoubtedly not the only ones pressing for this information to be made public, but now that it is public, it seems urgent to report findings about the wildly disproportionate and on-going impact of COVID-19 on the Latinx community of San Francisco.
The Latinx population represents half (49.7 percent) of all confirmed COVID-19 cases, for which ethnicity is known, since the start of the epidemic. This is already an alarming statistic considering Latinxs represent 15 percent of the City population. No other demographic group by race or ethnicity has been so disproportionately impacted by the illness, except the Asian community which has suffered nearly half of all fatalities—20 out of 43—due to the novel coronavirus.
The shocking picture for the Latinx community comes into focus when we look at data reported from May 9 to June 9 that shows that the Latinx population represents 61 percent of total new COVID-19 cases in the past month. 512 new cases among the Latinx population were still added in the last month alone, and these new cases represent 36 percent of the total 1,414 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Latinx population.
Data suggests that the peak of the first wave of the epidemic in San Francisco happened in April, a month in which the Latinx population saw 620 new confirmed cases; a number nearly double the number of cases in the community from the prior month. This was a situation that no other demographic group was experiencing, yet this data was not readily available, nor was there a special outreach efforts to explain the developing situation to the vulnerable, Latinx community of San Francisco, especially our undocumented and Spanish-speaking only population.
In late May, Mayor London Breed announced an expanded reopening of services and businesses in the City starting in June. The Health Officer simultaneously issued an indefinite shelter-in-place order and mandatory facemasks. The problem is that while the epidemiological curve may be seeing an overall downturn, the risk of a second wave hitting the Latinx community of San Francisco remains scarily high as the City enters a next stage of reopening. Latinx people are the only group which race or ethnicity we know for reported cases, which percentage representation in total COVID-19 cases has significantly continued to increase since the start of the outbreak, even as the number of new cases goes down.
Previously, El Tecolote reported in Essential, Sick and Marginalized: Latinx people represent nearly half of all COVID-19 cases (published June 4) on the structural economic and social conditions that increased the vulnerability of the Latinx community in the City and the Bay Area to the impacts of the disease as the outbreak happened. These conditions remain the same, meaning that the Latinx people in the City, especially those who are undocumented, continue to lack income to makes ends meet. Latinx workers continued to be disproportionately exposed to the disease as essential workers or workers too economically vulnerable to stay at home. They are forced by economic necessity to continue to act as the primary vector of COVID-19 transmission in San Francisco, in turn taking the virus back into the folds of their families.
Early findings of the Unidos en Salud testing effort that took place in a census tract of the Mission District in late April were announced in early May, showing that Latinos comprised 95 percent of positive cases in the sample census tract of the Mission District, with 90 percent of those testing positive needed to work. Following these findings, the Department of Public Health (DPH) expanded access to COVID-19 at City COVID-19 testing sites to include asymptomatic essential workers, since previously essential workers feeling sick but not desperately sick had been turned away from testing. More recently, on June 2nd, the DPH acknowledged that “[e]merging data indicates populations experiencing structural oppression bear a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 disease and death, have a higher prevalence of predisposing co-morbidities, and are more likely to experience conditions that may facilitate the spread of infection.” The DPH then expanded its definition of vulnerable populations to include “People experiencing marginalization, systemic inequity, and health inequities.”
While some Citywide measures, such as an extended eviction moratorium during the epidemic recently approved by the Board of Supervisors, support everyone in San Francisco, many in our Latinx undocumented population don’t believe that these benefits apply to them, precisely because they understand all too well how structural inequalities operate. More needs to be done to support the Latinx community in the City to shelter-in-place and help families to stop taking on disproportionate risks or burdens to gather the income to pay rent and utilities.
In a follow-on report published online yesterday, El Tecolote made known the voices of six essential workers who fell ill to COVID-19. We are listening to people in our community, and like in prior reports on COVID-19, we conclude with the following recommendations to lessen the burden of COVID-19 on the Latinx population and other vulnerable groups, both documented and undocumented:
- guarantee income including basic income, living wages, paid and expanded sick leave, and safe working conditions;
- free testing and free health care, facilitated by culturally appropriate methodologies and outreach campaigns; and
- stable housing by cancelling rent, mortgages, and utility payments and back payments, as well sustaining an eviction moratorium.
We have yet to see any effective response from the City directed at meeting the needs of the Latinx community during the COVID-19 epidemic. Rising income inequality and fears of eviction plague our neighbors hardest by the disease. Right now the most vulnerable among us in the Latinx community are positioned as the most expendable vulnerable population of the COVID-19 epidemic. Why isn’t Mayor Breed and our Board of Supervisors addressing the unique and escalating situation in the Latinx community?