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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.