Table 2 of the UCSF study showing the breakdown of test subject characteristics

The high rates of COVID-19 in the Mission District can be explained by social and economic disparities, according to an unreviewed paper published on Wednesday. 

The preprint, which means the study has not been yet peer-reviewed, highlights new information on the rates of prior infection as well as affirms that COVID-19 has been disproportionately impacting disadvantaged groups.

The study’s findings also showed that asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers are just as able to transmit the virus as those displaying symptoms.

Jon Jacobo, a leader of the Latino Task Force for COVID-19 and a co-author on the new preprint study, was particularly struck by that result. “You can be one hundred percent asymptomatic and still have the same levels [of the virus] as somebody that is symptomatic,” he said. “That should be an eye-opener for people.”

“Especially right now, as the country is going into reopening, and everybody thinks things are good, they’re great,” said Jacobo, “I don’t think we really understand what is actually happening.”

Jacobo said the finding that COVID-19 had been most impactful for those who had to work, was not a surprise. “This is not the great equalizer, as some people have framed it,” he said. “This impacts those that are on the front lines working and people that are most marginalized.”

“It’s hard to take in,” said Jacobo. “It’s folks that are making the ultimate sacrifice in some instances just to put food on the table.”

Over four days in late April, Unidos En Salud, UCSF and the San Francisco Department of Health, administered two tests–a “PCR” test, which determines whether someone is positive, and a serology test, which determines whether someone has been infected in the past and now has antibodies. 

The researchers conducted free walk-up testing to all residents and workers in the U.S. Census tract 229.01, a 16-square-block section of the Mission District, bordered by Cesar Chavez Street, 23rd, Harrison, and South Van Ness Avenue. The tests were conducted from April 25 to 28 and on the final day, testing was open to residents and workers in several bordering blocks. Additional testing of home-bound residents was conducted in early May. 

Preliminary results from the initial testing were released in early May, showing that 95 percent of those who tested positive in the Mission District were Latinx, despite only comprising 40 percent of the study’s testing pool.

According to the full report, more recent infections were found primarily among low-income, Latinx people working frontline jobs. 

With both the antibody tests and PCR tests, the researchers estimated that 6.1 percent of the residents from the census tract had been infected since the start of the pandemic. 

Some hard-hit cities that have conducted similar surveys, such as Los Angeles, had a lower infection estimate at 4.65 percent, Dr. Gabriel Chamie, an associate professor in the Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine and lead author on the preprint study wrote in an email. But the Los Angeles study only measured the presence of antibodies, wrote Chamie, which might explain why the Mission study results were higher.

In an April New York study, an estimated 14.9 percent of the state’s population has COVID-19 antibodies.

By comparing the PCR and antibody results from late April, the study estimated that 96 percent of new infections, where the virus is present without antibodies, were in Latinx individuals. Those infected earlier in the pandemic were only somewhat more representative of the Mission’s demographics, with 67 percent Latinx, 16 percent White, and 17 percent other, according to the study. 

The prior infections were found more frequently in those ethnically and economically diverse. 

The report asserts that low-income workers in frontline jobs could not afford to shelter in place and risk losing their income, therefore increasing their chance of recent transmission. Furthermore, the multi-generational and multi-family households common among the Latinx community also furthered the chance of new transmission.

Other risk factors for more recent infections in late April included unemployment and household income of less than $50,000 per year.

Jacobo said that the findings have enforced some of the proposals the city has already undertaken to better support these groups, such as the Right to Recover program, an initiative to provide workers who test positive with two weeks worth of minimum wage funds. Along with that, Jacobo said the findings have also encouraged him to consider other creative ways to help the Latino community. 

“It’s still dangerous. The danger has not gone away, there is not a vaccine, this is still very real,” Jacobo said. “We have to try our best to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

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5 Comments

  1. I don’t quite follow the logic. Unemployment benefits in place since the end of March are about $50,000 per person, which is the household income of the disproportionately effected residents who had to keep working. The CARES Act extended unemployment to cover those who could not work due to fear of infection. Are these frontline workers working jobs without benefits? That seems like something the DA should be able to follow up on, given the huge expansion of benefits through AB5. I feel like more information of this kind would add a lot to this reporting.

  2. Nonprofits–unable to advocate their communities out of harm’s way by organizing them to demand a fair shake, but always there to pick up the contracts for the programs on the back end.

    Housing, health care, worker’s rights, defending small business, whatever the Mission needs, there is a nonprofit portfolio for and in spite of their labors, the weakest of our neighbors are getting pummeled on, intersectionally.

    A nonprofit on the job means that any independent activism in the “space” will be coopted. They really own these outcomes.

    Organized communities are politically powerful and strong communities. This is as true in Latin America as it is here.

    We are not going to get that with more programs. We are not going to get that from someone who worked for Jane (Twitter tax break to Central SOMA upzoning) Kim or was press secretary to a CA Sanders campaign, a campaign that Kim larded up with patronage, that performed at 1/3 fewer votes than in 2016 and ended up shepherding voters to Biden.

    Nope, we’ve seen the work and need to reject this kind of patronage network careerism in favor of democratic community organizing towards self determination like one sees regularly in Latin America but which for some reason never happens in a neighborhood teeming with patronage paid community organizers.

  3. The headline understates the case; it is abundantly clear that inequality is the big factor here; what distinguishes the people who test positive? They are essential or don’t have the option of staying home and still getting paid. Either they are migrant workers doing day jobs, potentially undocumented or they don’t know how to access the CARES act to get financial support, or they live with many other people who have such risk factors and therefore can’t isolate even if they personally are able to stay home. This pandemic is really revealing how unjust and unequal our society is, and as a society, we are only as strong as our weakest link.

  4. What’s wrong with achieving herd immunity sooner? This data is from late April. They should be nearly all exposed and recovered by now. What a relief! They can go back to normal now.

  5. And what would be the contribution of congregating without masks or distancing be?
    Say Garfield Square? Rolph Playground? Portrero del Sol? Franklin Square?

    And how positives were from the unhoused or interactions with unhoused?

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