Supervisor Hillary Ronen on Latinx testing
District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen explains she called for a hearing that looks into the city's Covid-19 response as the impact continues to disproportionately affect the Latinx community. Photo by Annika Hom on Oct. 22, 2020.

San Francisco Department of Public Health workers had few clear answers at a hearing today on the question of why the city failed to quickly move Covid-19 resources to the highly impacted Latinx community. Instead,  they spoke about recently announced help – money that has not yet been distributed and a new testing center at the Alemany Market that has yet to open.  

Latinx residents comprise 15 percent of the city’s population, half of its covid cases and a quarter of its covid deaths. 

“Today, nearly seven months after the study, the situation has not improved in significant ways within the Latino community,” said Supervisor Hilary Ronen, who called for the hearing after Mission Local wrote a story in September that showed only 9 percent of the city’s testing resources were used for Latinx residents.

 “The Latinx community deserves to know what DPH has been doing to respond with solutions to the disproportionate amount of positivity within the Latinx community and what they plan to do to address the stubborn inequities,” she said. 

Supervisor Ronen asked the Department of Public Health to explain how much of the recently accounted $28.5 million that Mayor Breed will set aside for Latinx residents was actually being spent on them. She asked for specifics on where the money came from and where it will be used.  

The Health Department, she said, has been aware since an April testing campaign by the University California San Francisco that the virus has disproportionately affected Latinx residents. Still, community residents have told Ronen they’re lacking relief like housing stipends, testing and food.

“There’s this big proclamation made like, ‘$28 million dollars is going to the Latino community.’ But when I ask for the details, it’s very vague,” Ronen said. “It just hasn’t felt like DPH has supported [the Hub’s] heroic efforts nearly enough.” The Hub, run by the Latino Task Force, includes a resource center, food distribution and testing once a week since July. 

And Thursday, Health Department staff didn’t have an immediate specifics about the $28.5 million. Instead, Isela Ford, a program coordinator with the Health Department, said that 36 percent of all covid response spending are earmarked for the Latinx community, including a Health Department investment totalling $7.3 million. 

The $7.3 million would be broken down into $3 million for Essential Resource Hubs, $1.5 million Test-to-Community-Care models, $1.25 million for contact tracing, and $1.5 million for primary care. 

Ronen appeared to find this number a little misleading, and pointed to the $3 million for resource hubs as an example. 

Although the Resource Hub on Alabama Street serves a majority of Latinx residents, they also serve non-Latinx residents, she said. The $3 million also accounts for hubs in the Excelsior and the Bayview, which may test Latinx residents at a lower rate, due to different demographic make-up. 

And, so far, despite announcing the funds, no money has gone to the Latino Task Force Hub that has been serving the community and running largely on volunteers.  

“I just want to be clear, I’m not trying to pit communities against each other, because each community needs these resources,” Ronen said, adding that she was “thrilled” Excelsior and Bayview would get funding that they should “absolutely get.” 

“In a way, this hearing is conducted to focus on one community that’s hit hardest by the epidemic,” Ronen said. “But to then say that that $2 million is focused on the Latino community, I just think that’s not accurate.”

During the hearing, members of the Latino Task Force and Excelsior Strong, two organizations that have led the testing efforts for Latinx San Franciscans in the city’s Southeast, said they haven’t received the long-awaited funds, despite the sweeping multi-million announcement in late September.

“We need funding,” said Jon Jacobo, the health committee chair on the Latino Task Force. “The task force has yet to receive a dollar from the Department of Public Health in terms of our resources and what we need. And we need those resources now.”

The city has failed the Latinx community, Jacobo said. While he praised Ford and Oscar Macias, another DPH worker, he blasted the leadership for skipping out on the hearing. 

“I’m a little disappointed that Dr. Grant Colfax is not at this particular hearing to take questions. I understand that people are busy,” Jacobo said. “But, at the end of the day, that community has been hit hard and I would hope that this would have been top priority. “

Marco Montenegro from Excelsior Strong said money is needed because often the people running the pop-up testing sites and care models are doing so on top of other core services they provide to the community. 

“We [have] been doing this work without any extra funding to hire and build this team to sustain this work,” Montenegro said. 

Supervisor Shamann Walton criticized the delays as “bureaucratic games” and, after a Health Department employee said the $3 million in hub money has been on hold for at least six weeks, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman called for other city leaders to give an explanation. 

“If someone could run and grab whoever at [the Office of Economic and Workforce Development], you know, sort of overseeing this process and maybe before the end of this hearing, get us some indication of kind of where it is,” Mandelman said, underscoring the lag’s impact on volunteers. 

The source of the $28.5 million was another unsolved mystery. Ronen said Breed’s initial announcement surprised her, especially since the budget had already been finalized. And despite following up more than once, the Supervisor said she has yet to receive those answers. 

The hearing also examined the amount of testing being used on the Latinx community – tests and after-care resources that could prevent the spread of the virus. 

One way the Health Department hopes to resolve this is by creating a new low-barrier fixed testing site in the Alemany Farmers Market   in Bernal Heights and near the Excelsior that will replace the one in South of Market, said Dr. Naveena Bobba the deputy director of the Health Department. It plans to open on Nov. 17. 

This was welcome news for those who have criticized the city for concentrating testing resources in huge sites like the Embarcadero and SoMa, which are based in areas with low-positivity rates and that are not generally accessed by low-income Latinx residents. 

Dr. Bobba presented data that showed both sites have administered over 170,000 tests, including 17.3 percent of Latinx residents. 

Meanwhile, neighborhood pop-ups – despite reaching more Latinx residents – are only open one or two days a week and have conducted only 4,246 tests, some of which the city released only following threats to “kick up dust.”

Out of all citywide tests, 30 percent have been conducted in eight of the underserved neighborhoods impacted most. About 30 percent of those tests went to vulnerable populations, said Dr. Kelly Hiramoto from the health department. 

Data presented at the hearing showed that  out of the 1,468 people tested at the Hub, 78 percent were Latinx; out of 500 tested at the Excelsior site, 63 percent were Latinx. At Potrero Hill, about 33 percent of test recipients were Latinx. At Bayview, 25 percent were Latinx and, in the Tenderloin, 23 percent were Latinx. 

Many of these tests are overseen by Color laboratories, DPH employees like Ford and Oscar Macias, and community organizations.

The health department officials pointed to the decline in covid and the city’s low mortality rate, but few expect the virus to disappear. Positivity rates in Southeast San Francisco remain higher than other neighborhoods. 

The city is also giving out grants to community organizations to boost hyperlocal contact tracing and community care for those infected with covid. But it’s unclear when that money will arrive. 

Already, the director of another community clinic in Bayview said none of the 10 community residents she sent for contact-tracing job interviews were hired. Instead, DPH has asked her to use staff already on her payroll, and it’s unclear when negotiations will occur, she told Mission Local.

At the behest of Ronen, the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services will hold another hearing at a later date for continued discussion. 

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REPORTER. 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 on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Data presented at the hearing showed that out of the 1,468 people tested at the Hub, 78 percent were Latino; out of 500 tested at the Excelsior site, 63 percent were Latinx. At Potrero Hill, about 33 percent of test recipients were Latinx. At Bayview, 25 percent were Latinx and, in the Tenderloin, 23 percent were Latinx.

    Uh-Oh, someone committed a thought crime.
    I guess it takes a good amount of work to try to change the Spanish language. It will always be “Latino” and no amount of virtue signaling will ever change that …. plus Latino has and will always be inclusive of all.

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