COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Mission District’s Latinx community, prompting local leaders to take extraordinary measures
After being turned away from San Francisco General Hospital because she wasn’t covered in their healthcare network, Teresa Velasco, 70, found out about a new neighborhood vaccine site from her friend working with the Latino Task Force.
Known as “Doña,” Velasco has owned and operated a mom and pop store called “Doña Tere’s Market” for 20 years, and after hearing from Susana Rojas, who volunteers with the Latino Task Force, she received her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 3, 2021.
“Thank god for this site. My mother is 70 years old, and, though we’re careful, she still works in close contact with people,” said Erma Duran, Velasco’s daughter who helps with the daily operations at the family store. As an essential worker, Doña and her family were relieved that she was able to receive the vaccine. She only had a minor irritation and redness on her arm after the shot, and plans to return for the second dose on March 3.
Through a unique partnership between U.C. San Francisco , the Latino Task Force on COVID-19 (LTF), and SF Department of Public Health (DPH), Unidos en Salud has opened the first neighborhood coronavirus vaccine site in the heart of Mission District, at the corner of 24th and Capp streets.
Serving as a “bridge to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” Unidos en Salud/United in Health is made up of healthcare providers, infectious disease experts, community mobilizers, and people passionate about helping vulnerable populations.The collaboration has brought a free rapid test COVID-19 site to the 24th Mission BART Plaza, and now a vaccine site to the Mission.
The 24th and Capp streets vaccine site has disputed 120 Moderna vaccine doses per day since opening on Feb. 1 and, when capacity and supply increase, the site could expand distribution to 200-400 vaccinations per day. According to the Center for Disease Control, both vaccines can be administered up to 6 weeks (42 days) after the first dose without restarting the vaccination series.
With limited supply, the first doses are going to community health workers and those who are 65 years and up, adhering to City and State guidelines. Appointments are required to receive a free vaccine, though, if eligible anyone can walk-up and be registered for an appointment.
For rapid testing, the Mission site is considered a “low-barrier clinic,” meaning: no ID is required, no appointment is needed, no internet sign up, and no cost. UCSF/Unidos en Salud healthcare workers don’t know if any undocumented residents have recieved a rapid testing or vaccination because identification is not required.
For rapid testing, the Mission site is considered a “low-barrier clinic,” meaning: no ID is required, no appointment is needed, no internet sign up, and no cost.
Executive Director of Calle 24, Susana Rojas, 48, a volunteer Unidos en Salud, has described herself as being “on the right side of history” when it comes to serving those communities who have historically been underserved. Rojas feels there are some who have made “life harder” for those who are suffering during the pandemic, and she wants to make “life easier” for them.
Bilingual speaker Ish Luna, 34, volunteers for Unidos en Salud after being furloughed from work and says he’s talked with many spanish speaking individuals who “don’t realize they had the opportunity to be vaccinated or tested,” and end up bringing their whole family to receive care after they do.
During the initial surge in April of last year, infectious disease experts began to notice the overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases at General Hospital were Latinx persons living in the Mission. Infectious global disease experts from UCSF then began discussions with local Mission leaders.
By collaborating with Latinx community organizers, UCSF healthcare professionals are in a better position to combat the spread and ensure vaccine distribution is equitable, especially in vulnerable and heavily impacted communities.
Mission leader, activist and member of LTF, Roberto “The Mayor of the Mission” Hernandez, created the Mission Food Hub which has helped bring culturally appropriate food to 10,000 Latinx families since the pandemic started. “We are doing the work of the government,” said Hernadndez, alluding to the lack of planning from the federal government in 2020.
The LTF consists of 30 plus Lantix organisations that came into existence out of necessity to deliver outreach programs to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, six weeks into shelter-in-place the LTF recruited 450 volunteers, that, in four days knocked on 1,400 doors, resulting in 4,200 people being tested from the Mission’s most dense census tract. “COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color because of a long history of institutionalized racism and structural inequities,” said Jon Jacobo, Health Committee Chair of LTF. “This group has been fighting for this neighborhood and responding to painful crises since before the pandemic.”
“There’s a lot of institutional mistrust. A lot of times relationships between community and institutions of power are very unequal, they’re unfair […] but, because we have very strategic voices of elders that have done this before, telling UCSF, if we are going to partner, we are 50/50,” said Jacobo.