A recent Covid-19 study in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood underscored the virus’ disproportionate effect on Latinxs, especially among the Mam Mayan community, and showed a high rate of exposure among both populations through antibody tests administered over the same period.
The two-day testing initiative — a collaboration between the University of California, San Francisco and numerous community partners, including La Clínica de la Raza — tested nearly 1,000 adults and 150 children on Sept. 26 and 27 at the La Clínica de la Raza parking lot in Fruitvale.
All of those tested took a traditional PCR test nose swab, and more than 800 adults and 50 children took a blood antibody test.
Data revealed that out of the nearly 1,200 people tested, 0.5% non-Latinx individuals were PCR positive, compared to 5 percent of Latinxs and 8 percent of Mayan adults. Forty-one percent of people said they lived in the Fruitvale area, and about 62 percent identified as Latinx.
“This is, unfortunately, something that has been shown in other places, and is true here in the Fruitvale,” said Dr. Alicia Fernández, a UCSF professor of medicine and the director of the UCSF Latinx Center of Excellence, during a distanced and masked press conference Friday.
The preliminary data presents an even starker contrast among Latinxs and Mayans when looking at antibody test results, a metric used to determine past infection.
Viral antibodies were found in the blood tests of 11.9 percent of Latinx adults and children, and 26.8 percent of Mayan adults, compared to 6 percent of non-Latinxs.
Fernández called the results “enormously high,” and said these antibody positivity rates rival those found in New York City earlier in the pandemic. They appear to be the highest antibody rates found in local testing campaigns.
Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan, whose district encompasses Fruitvale, said the results demonstrate a need for more testing so people can properly quarantine.
“The fact that the antigen test is pretty high shows people had the virus without knowing it and got over it before we were able to get to them,” Chan said. “So now, we have to step it up.”
It also indicates that many of those people may have been out and about, passing the virus on.
The initiative also tested children, which just became possible at San Francisco low-barrier neighborhood clinics in October.
In the Fruitvale study, 10 children had covid-positive nose swabs and six children had coronavirus antibodies. Though transmission among young children is low, they’re not immune to the virus, leaders said.
Maya Machado, a Fruitvale resident, recounted how her 12-year-old daughter Emily contracted coronavirus in early July and had a fever and diarrhea. Although Emily tested negative in mid-August, she started vomiting in September, and received a positive COVID-19 test. Emily would be hospitalized for a week.
“Us as a Latin community, we think it won’t hit our household, or ‘oh, the symptoms aren’t that bad,’” Machado said, noting that’s why she wanted to share her story. “But [what about] when it’s your baby, or your father in law?”
Fruitvale is located in the zip code 94601, which has 2,289 covid cases and maintains a 12 percent positivity rate — making it one of the most impacted in Alameda County, according to public health data. As of Oct. 14, Alameda County has an overall positivity rate of 1.4 percent.
Back in April, a collaborative Mission study between UCSF doctors and the Latino Task Force revealed that low-income Latinos and essential workers were contracting coronavirus at far higher rates than other populations. That study also showed that the covid-positive workers and residents who were Latinx had limited or non-existent ability to work from home, and returned to overcrowded living situations.
The Fruitvale study also illustrated the high economic and social cost of covid for the Latinx community. The data showed more than a quarter of Latinxs tested lost income during the pandemic, and 15 percent lost their jobs.
This wasn’t much of a surprise to Jane Garcia, the CEO of La Clínica, whose organization has been offering weekly low-barrier testing for months. But even by her counts, the dire need for food was much higher than anticipated: More than 42 percent of Latinxs and 60 percent of Mayans who tested at the initiative, “Sanando Juntos,” said they were experiencing food insecurity.
In addition, 41 percent of PCR-positive people lived in households with six to 10 people and 35 percent had no health insurance, which echoes San Francisco findings Fernández said.
A member of the Mam community, Rosendo Aguilar, said that the study underscored how more resources, especially food and cash assistance, should be just as much of a priority for Oakland leaders as coronavirus response.
“It’s not new that the Hmong and indigenous community are the most underserved here,” Aguilar said, asking for the Mam to be viewed as human beings and not numbers. “We need your support. We need action, some movement for us.”
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf called the results “disturbing, but not unexpected.”
“To the Latino and Mayan Mam community: we care deeply about you. We see this virus is affecting you worse than any other groups in our beloved community,” Schaaf said. “Oakland should be proud that we have these organizations that have been building trust in these hard-to-reach communities.”
One way to do this is for Oakland to up coronavirus outreach in Spanish and Mam, a Mayan language, Garcia said. When respondents at the testing initiative were asked if they received covid information through Spanish television, 45 percent of Latinx respondents and 57 percent of Mayan Latinx said yes. Garcia told Mission Local that the Latinx community also learned a lot from churches, such as the nearby St. Elizabeth Parish.
“We clearly need to engage our community members and ask them what they need,” Garcia said.
Machado is still reeling from the devastation the virus caused her family. Both her parents-in-law contracted it around the first time Emily did, causing her father-in-law to be in the hospital for weeks. Emily still doesn’t feel 100 percent.
“It was really catastrophic. I hope everyone takes this seriously,” Machado said. “You really never know. Especially when you have to see your baby in a hospital.”