Latinx residents hit hardest by pandemic

A study released today by UCSF underscored the importance of ramping up testing for Latinx residents in the Southeast sector of the city, after results showed that this demographic not only tests positive at a higher rate than the rest of San Francisco, but may pass covid-19 on to others, due to an inability to self-quarantine. 

Out of 2,622 Bay Area residents tested at the 24th Street BART pop-up testing site launched a month ago, Latinx residents registered an 11 percent positive-test rate, compared to 9 percent among all participants. Both dwarf San Francisco’s overall rate, which is presently 2.6 percent, according to the Department of Public Health. 

“It’s deeply personal, it’s deeply painful, and deeply frustrating, to see from April that we have not been able to get a grip on covid-19,” said Jon Jacobo, a lead organizer with the Latino Task Force, the organization that joined UCSF in leading this pilot study.  

While the study has limits — for example, 92 percent of participants were symptomatic, which could well factor into the high positivity rate — the data still highlights the benefits to testing where it’s proven transmission is most likely. These results are still drastically higher than those at the Embarcadero testing site, which has only a 1 percent positive rate, said Dr. Diane Havlir, chief of the UCSF Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine. 

It also demonstrates how the city’s efforts to eliminate testing barriers confronting low-income, Latinx residents have not yet succeeded. Nearly half of positive cases were during the virus’s most infectious stage, meaning people had been tested too late and potentially exposed others. 

Interviews between testing volunteers and people at the pop-up revealed it took an average of five days for them to be symptomatic, get tested, and shelter in place — a damning lag in testing and turnaround. By then the damage is done: covid is at its most infectious when symptoms first appear, and up to five days after, medical experts said. 

Of those who rode BART or Muni that day, seven percent of test subjects came up positive.

“This virus moves so fast. We have to keep up,” Havlir said. “Essentially, the train has left the station. We need to ask — where are the delays? It’s in testing.”

But experts said that quarantining plays as much of a role in curbing the spread as testing does. Unfortunately, some people may not be able to quarantine at all. 

Studies show essential workers and low-income workers are more at risk for covid, since they continue to go to work. In the results reported today,  87 percent of positive testing participants earn less than $50,000 a year and 79 percent live in an overcrowded home (with a median of six people per household).  

“If you’re not symptomatic and faced with going to work and collecting your daily salary, or staying home, which of the two would you select?” Jacobo said. 

Although city leaders attempted to address this with programs like the Right to Recover, which funds covid-positive workers for up to four weeks, the money will not be available until mid-September. Meanwhile, 22 percent of positive respondents said their work still denies them paid sick leave, despite calls to do so from local leaders.  

“To know we can’t get them the funds in an adequate amount of time means that they are forgoing bills or responsibilities that they have,” Jacobo said. “We have to ensure this has funding and works accurately.”

The survey questions also spotlighted the lack of education about covid in vulnerable communities, Latino Task Force organizer Susana Rojas said. For example, some covid-positive residents said that they didn’t realize they exhibited symptoms. Additionally, 98 percent of those who tested positive at the 24th Street site self-reported wearing masks; the 9 percent positivity rate suggests that people may not wear them correctly. 

“There are mixed messages going on in the community that masks aren’t necessary and a hoax,” Rojas said, noting that data suggests they’re effective when appropriately. “Wear them correctly and consistently.”

Jacobo added that most people remove masks when relaxing at home. In overcrowded households, this might heighten risk and transmission. 

In many ways, the 24th Street pilot was successful, said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins Domingo, vice dean for population health and health equity at the UCSF. It proved that there is a need for targeted, low-barrier and regional testing and that researchers should look into areas they know little about, such as transmission on transportation. (Current data suggests that transmission on public transportation is low if riders are masked, Bibbins Domingo noted.)

“BART is a perfect example of a testing and surveillance strategy that will also look regionally,” Domingo said. About 18 percent of the participants lived in places outside of the city, like San Mateo County.  

Of the 2,622 test subjects in the roughly three-week period, 93 percent who tested positive were Latinx, and 85 percent preferred communicating in Spanish. 

“It’s great we have other testing facilities, but the strategy must be to come into communities where we know that the transmission is higher,” Jacobo said, mentioning places in the Southeast sector like the Bayview, Excelsior and Sunnydale.  

More work remains for the city and its community groups. 

“We need the resources.”

This Labor Day Weekend, the Latino Task Force and Carnaval organizers aim to test about 2,000 people for free.  

CORRECTION: Updated Sept. 4, 2:22 p.m.

The following figures have been corrected to say “of those who tested positive” instead of  originally stating them as “test participants”: “92 percent of those who tested positive were symptomatic” and “93 percent of those who tested positive were Latinx.” 

The following has been clarified: “Of those who rode BART or Muni that day, seven percent of test subjects came up positive.” It originally read, “Seven percent of test subjects who came up positive had used BART or Muni that day.” 

We regret the errors and confusion. 

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Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

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14 Comments

  1. OK, 11% that is higher than 2% overall. Was that overall study of symptomatic people as well? If not, moot comparison.

    Also, was it 9% of latinos tested, or 9% of total people tested. Popup was in the Mission, so what % of people tested were latinx?

    Logic would say most people tested were Latinx.

    Why publish share this study?

    1. Hi, thanks for your interest. It appears you may have just read the headline; all the answers to your questions are explicitly addressed in my article (they are good questions that I also had).

  2. Death rates are incredibly low. We know there has been significant genetic drift within the virus. Time for people to keep
    Wearing masks but start opening back up.

  3. Sorry I did read the article 11% vs 9% of sympomatic patients is negligable if Latinx chose to get tested with clear covid symptoms, vs others testing with one of the many Covid symptoms. The Latinx in my world would fall into the group that would agree to get tested, only if they really thought they had Covid. I am sure you only needed to have one of the typical Covid symptoms to qualify for testing.

    And the article acknowledged, you can’t compare an asympomatic and a sympomatic study but decided to cute it anyway.

    So no, I disagree with you but understand why YOU thought it was valid.

  4. This is exactly why Grant Colfax should be fired and London Breed immediately recalled. Six months since being the earliest – with the most stringent – to lockdown in the country and we still have not figured out how to protect the most vulnerable communities in the city while giving everyone else a chance to operate businesses in a safe manner. Why? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out from the beginning where the spikes and community spread were likely to be so why was/is nothing being done to fix this and allow everyone else to get back to some kind of “normal”? Complete failure from Breed.

    1. I’m not sure what you expect Breed and Colfax to do. SF has been one of the best cities in the country in terms of infection rates, death rates, etc. Unfortunately, we can only do so much in a *free* country. By *free* country I mean a country where every county and every state has different rules and people have freedom of movement. We have people flying/driving in to the city from Las Vegas, Phoenix, LA, Florida, etc. They are going to introduce virus no matter what we do. And of course populations that have to work outside the home and live in cramped quarters (e.g., Latinos) are going to experience the worst of it.

      1. I expect them not to keep SF in a continual state of lockdown. There’s no need for this stupidly drawn-out, color-coded blunderbuss approach to keeping case counts to a minimum. Because guess what? The curve was flattened months ago and the virus is still going to be there when you eventually have the courage to allow inside dining to happen in a safe manner. You won’t eliminate the virus by destroying small businesses over the course of the year for nothing more than covering backsides. Colfax should be fired immediately- testing is abysmal and no targeted prevention strategy is in place for high risk communities. Breed should be recalled because she is absolutely clueless in figuring any of this out and is allowing Colfax’s stupidity to destroy SF.

  5. The positivity rates don’t add up as described. If 93% of study participants are Latinx and 11% of them test positive, that’s 10% of the total study population positive even if *no* non-Latinx participants test positive. Even adjusting for rounding doesn’t get you down to 9%. (92.5% * 10.5% = 9.7%).

    1. “Out of 2,622 Bay Area residents tested at the 24th Street BART pop-up testing site launched a month ago, Latinx residents registered an 11 percent positivity rate compared to a 9 percent positivity rate for all participants”

      “Of the 2,622 test subjects in the roughly three week period, 93 percent were Latinx”

      2622 * 93% * 11% = 268 positive latinx folks.

      If the overall positivity rate was 9% of the 2622 tested, that means 234 tested positive overall.

      The numbers don’t add up. If 9% overall tested positive(234 folks), its impossible that the Latinx rate was 11% as that number is 268.

      Sorry, the numbers don’t add up. Whoever did the math needs to check their calculator.

      1. Hi, thank you for your comments. I corrected this to add “of those who tested positive.” I apologize for any confusion this caused.

  6. Thanks for covering and for all the Mission Local does to keep up up to date with this pandemic that is ravaging our community. Here are a couple of corrections:
    Corrections:

    “While the study has limits — for example, 92 percent of participants were symptomatic, which could well factor into the high positivity rate”

    I think it’s 80% of POSITIVES were symptomatic or had previous symptoms. Not sure where this 92% comes from?

    “Seven percent of test subjects who came up positive had used BART or Muni that day”.

    ​This is flipped? 7% of people who used BART/Muni tested positive. 41% of the 2600+ people who tested used BART or MUNI on the day of the study

    In the results reported today, 87 percent of testing participants earn less than $50,000 a year and 79 percent live in an overcrowded home (with a median of six people per household). AND Of the 2,622 test subjects in the roughly three week period, 93 percent were Latinx and 85 percent preferred Spanish language.

    This stat is for the positives. ex – 74% of the total population was Latinx and we don’t have primary language for the entire testing population.
    Diane Jones, RN, Unidos en Salud

    1. Hi, thank you for your comments. I corrected and clarified the information. I apologize for any confusion this caused.

  7. To the people writing/thinking if covid doesn’t kill you, you’re good: I lived through covid but it has left me with real damage. I can’t work. I now have to take steroids every day, which causes other problems and I carry an asthma inhaler with me everywhere because I will start coughing and not be able to stop. I can’t carry more than a bag of groceries at a time because I am not strong enough. It’s month since I got it but I’m too weak to eat some days.

  8. Why do you call Latinos, latinx? I read a peer reviewed study that only 2% of the Latino population identify with that term. 98% prefer to be called Latino or Hispanic. My Hispanic family members definitely don’t want to be called lantinx

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