The crowd at Izzy's Steakhouse in the Marina District on Monday, Nov. 16. Photo by Juan Carlos Lara.

Covid-19 case rates in some affluent neighborhoods, including the Marina and Presidio Heights are now matching those in low-income neighborhoods hit hardest by the virus. 

As San Francisco enters a “major surge,” with case rates at 13.1 cases per 100,000, the Marina District and Presidio Heights have reported new case rates similar to those in the city’s southeast, which consistently see the worst rates in the city. 

But the Marina and Presidio Heights increases may come from complacent behaviors, compared to surges in low-income neighborhoods, where essential workers and the inability to quarantine fuel the spread, said Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax. 

“It’s important to emphasize that the virus still remains concentrated in the communities that have been most impacted by the virus, including southeast parts of the city and the Latinx community,” Colfax said at a Nov. 16 press conference.

“But we’re seeing an increase across the city, likely due to the fact that people are letting down their guard,” Colfax said. “No matter where you are in the city, this is not a time to let up.”

Earlier in the month, Mayor London Breed warned that lax behavior could cause an uptick in areas where covid has usually been low.

“What we are seeing is neighborhoods that are traditionally not impacted by the virus, with people hanging out at some of the bars, and we’re also seeing the mask come off,” Breed said on a Nov. 10 press conference. 

The Marina and Presidio Heights have averaged 42 and 48 new cases per 10,000 people over the last 30 days. Respectively, a total of 105 and 51 cases were confirmed over the last 30 days, most of which occurred soon after Halloween, Election Day, and election-result celebrations (most crowds were masked, but not socially distanced). 

That compares to the southeast sector, which has borne the brunt throughout the pandemic. The Bayview reported 58 new cases per 10,000 people, and 217 total cases over the last 30 days. The Mission reported 51 new cases per 10,000 people, and 303 total cases in the last 30 days. For months, both have reported the highest transmission rates. 

Other current hotspots include Portola, Excelsior, and the Outer Mission, which have 48, 42 and 40 cases per 10,000 people, respectively. 

Marina and Presidio Heights cases shot up from Nov. 2 to Nov. 20, according to data reviewed by Mission Local

The Marina case rates soared particularly in census tracts 128 and 129.02, which touch Lombard, Divisadero and Fillmore Streets, and have some of the district’s prominent bars and clubs often frequented by younger crowds. As bars began reopening for outdoor service, denizens returned. For this reason, Mary Bond, a 30-year-resident of the Marina, said she wouldn’t venture outside on weekends, because there’s “lots of people crowded around.”

Source: Census Reporter.
Source: Census Reporter.

And, at about 6 p.m. on a Monday night in mid-November, people were winding down and enjoying a drink. One young man sat waiting for his food without a mask, but then put one on when his date arrived. 

Cros, an employee at T-Mobile, said he sees about half the people wearing a mask in the Marina, and said he doesn’t think people are as concerned, or are “are just begrudging when told to put a mask on.”

He said one customer brought his pitbull to the store and asked Cros if he had to put “his muzzle on” before entering. He wasn’t talking about his dog, but his own mask. 

“People’s lax attitude around masks — there doesn’t seem to be any strict adherence around here,” Cros said. “And it’s a drinking area with lots of restaurants and shopping, so it’s busier than other parts of the city.”

Daniel Medellin, 54, sat down to dine outside at Izzy’s Steakhouse. Medellin said he trusts San Francisco’s leadership, and has avoided heavily trafficked areas, including Valencia Street. 

Since the start of outdoor dining, “I go out to eat about twice a week, but before the pandemic, it was about five or six times a week,” Medellin said. “I wouldn’t be out here on a Friday or Saturday night. I wouldn’t even be out here at, like, nine, but right now is fine.”

Daniel Medellin eats with his friend Gerard Ayala and Eddie Cruz Ayala. Photo by Juan Carlos Lara on Nov. 16.

Still, even bar owners who said they worried about health were resistant to any shutdown. 

“I think our strict laws are hurting as much as they’re helping,” said Patrick Connely, the owner of Monaghan’s Bar. “There’s no apprehension among staff. I think our numbers should be way higher before another shutdown.” 

The parklet at Monaghan’s in the Marina District is packed on Monday night for the Nov. 16 Chicago Bears game against Minnesota Vikings. Photo by Juan Carlos Lara.

It’s less clear what is driving the uptick in Presidio Heights, which ranks fourth in new case rates behind the Bayview, Mission and Portola. Cases derive from census tracts 154 and 133, roughly enclosed by Geary Boulevard, Lyon Street and Arguello Boulevard. The Department of Public Health has not returned a request for comment. 

In the Presidio Heights, known more as a high-income neighborhood bordering the outdoorsy Presidio, the case rates surprised and puzzled some restaurant managers.

Source: Census Reporter.

“It’s super rare if someone doesn’t have a mask; 99 percent are, here,” said Ted Sokmen, the manager at Presidio Kebabs & Gyros, who halfheartedly guessed surges were caused by traveling. “I don’t see any unusual activity. People are careful.”

Mango, the manager at Presidio Pizza Company, which borders Presidio Heights, agreed that the neighborhood generally sticks to health guidelines. “I couldn’t see why it’s higher here than anywhere else,” he said. 

It appears unclear to the Health Department, as well, as scores of recently reported citywide cases did not report its source, data shows. San Francisco logs each confirmed death and case with the purported “transmission” cause as “community,” “contact,” or “unknown,” and it is not broken down per neighborhood. The number of reported unknown cases surged mid-November, and eclipsed each community and contact report since Nov. 16. 

And, while all who are affected by covid will struggle, undoubtedly the rich are better poised to deal with its effects — they’re more likely to have paid sick leave and a place to isolate effectively. 

“Many Latinx persons are frontline workers and cannot shelter in place, and many live in multigenerational households, which increases the risk of household transmission,” wrote UCSF Dr. Carina Marquez in an email. Marquez aided the testing of more than 1,500 residents at the 24th Street BART station to help dampen the surge by detecting cases early and getting residents isolated. 

“Covid-19 exposes and exploits existing inequities,” Marquez said. “And this surge continues to disproportionately affect Latinx communities in San Francisco.”

Mission Local reporter Juan Carlos Lara contributed to this report.

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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6 Comments

  1. Cases aren’t hospitalizations. Usual scare mongering from those who want a socialist govt to pay all their bills.

  2. I live in presidio heights area and we have like 2 bars, lots of space, and good social distancing / mask use. But we also seem to have a lot more rich children than most parts of the city so my totally non scientific guess is that the rich kids are giving it to their parents. Or they are traveling like the person quoted guesses. I’m sure I would have been the same at 15 so I’m not trying to hate on them but I’ve also seen loads of teenagers gathering in the park at night and not wearing masks. Think they’re just bored like the rest of us.

  3. Hi Annika, would it be possible to explain how you go from the 11-digit census tract code displayed by the health department to the census tract number in Census Reporter? It would be a service to readers who are trying to see where COVID-19 is spreading in their immediate neighborhood and where hotspots are. Thank you!

    1. Hi, thank you for reading and for the great question.

      You should look at the 11-digit census tract number and focus on the last five digits, which is how San Francisco refers to these census tracts. That’s how they are also referred to in Census Reporter. For example, the Presidio Heights census tracts on the Covid-19 map is listed as 06075015400. The last five digits translates to Census Tract 154 (or 154.00). In the Tenderloin, one of the census tracts is 06075012201. This corresponds with census tract 122.01.

      I used the city’s planning and socioeconomic profiles to find/confirm the census tracts within each neighborhood, which is included at footnotes at the bottom of each profile. You can find the 2012-2016 version of these profiles and census tract designations (which I used for this article) to find specific census tracts in your neighborhood below.

      https://default.sfplanning.org/publications_reports/SF_NGBD_SocioEconomic_Profiles/2012-2016_ACS_Profile_Neighborhoods_Final.pdf

      Finally, you can scroll down to the census tract case information on the city’s Covid-19 Maps page and/or zoom in on each of the highlighted areas found on the map visualization. Either will highlight the census tracts that are experiencing higher case rates.

      Hope this helps.

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