San Francisco’s Latinx population continues to face higher positivity rates of COVID-19, especially among low-income and essential workers, according to a testing survey conducted in late November.
The Unidos en Salud/United in Health initiative, organized by the University of California at San Francisco, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the Latino Task Force for COVID-19 and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, tested nearly 7,000 residents in the Mission District and the Bayview, Excelsior and Tenderloin neighborhoods before and after Thanksgiving.
Test samples were collected Nov. 22-24 and Nov. 29-Dec. 1 through door-to-door canvassing by the LTF, according to UCSF. The four neighborhoods were chosen for their high case numbers relative to the rest of the city.
Of those tested, 4.4 percent were positive for the virus, higher than the city’s seven-day average 2.9 positivity rate as of Wednesday. In addition, 79 percent of those who tested positive were Latinx despite just over half of those tested being Latinx.
At the 24th Street Mission BART station plaza, where organizers recorded the highest number of cases, one-tenth of Latinx people in the survey tested positive.
“Cases have been surging for weeks, and it was clear that the holiday season this year was going to present a high risk for accelerating the spread of the virus,” said UCSF infectious disease expert and Unidos En Salud co-founder Dr. Diane Havlir.
“Rather than wait and see what would happen, UCSF and the Latino Task Force decided to respond proactively with a surge of our own, in partnership with DPH, focused on the communities where we knew the hammer was going to fall hardest,” she said.
Around one-third of those who tested positive were asymptomatic and more than half did not know they had even been exposed, according to UCSF.
Latinx and Hispanic populations across the state and country have been disproportionately affected by the virus, facing both higher test positivity rates and higher mortality rates than most other racial and ethnic groups.
Latinx and Hispanic residents make up around 15 percent of the city’s population, but make up 45.5 percent of the 17,571 coronavirus cases confirmed in the city, according to data from the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
Latinx and Hispanic residents also make up 23.6 percent of the coronavirus-related deaths in the city. White residents make up roughly 40 percent of the city’s population, and make up the same percentage of COVID-19 deaths.
“These results are a reminder the brunt of this disease is still being felt by Latinos and people without the economic privilege to easily shelter in place,” LTF Health Committee Chair Jon Jacobo said. “Because (of) existing disparities, it is often those with the least who are being hurt the most, people who are often working multiple jobs just to make rent and keep food on the table for themselves and family.”
The LTF’s Community Wellness Team assisted those who tested positive during the survey with quarantining, helping them gain access to necessities like food and sanitation supplies as well as city-run hotel rooms for isolation and quarantine.
While rapid-response testing allowed those who tested positive during the survey to begin isolating the same day, Havlir — the chief of UCSF’s Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine — said testing access must continue to be expanded even as COVID-19 vaccines become more broadly available next year.
“We need to be making it as easy as possible for everyone in communities most affected by the virus to get tested regularly, symptoms or no, and to get people who test positive into isolation as quickly as possible with supportive services to cut off the chain of transmission,” she said.
Unidos En Salud’s organizers and volunteers have provided roughly 14,000 people with free COVID-19 testing since April, holding weekly pop-up testing events in the city and not requiring a reservation, health insurance or identification to be tested.
Jacobo credited the success of the LTF and Unidos En Salud to the community members who volunteer their time to coordinate testing and aid those who test positive.
“This has let us provide wrap-around services that are tailored to the need of each patient but are also culturally competent, and all are built upon the trust we have been building through our deep relationships with the community,” he said.