Earlier testing at the BART Plaza. Community volunteers and researchers huddle at 24th Street before major post-Thanksgiving testing campaign. Photo by Julian Mark

Preliminary results of the Latino Task Force/UCSF testing campaign at the 24th Street BART station — which tested residents three days before Thanksgiving and is currently performing a post-Thanksgiving testing blitz through Tuesday — showed that infection rates among Latinx residents easily outstripped the city’s overall rate of 2 percent.

Of the 1,651 people tested before Thanksgiving at the BART Plaza, 6 percent received positive results from PCR tests, which are more sensitive to asymptomatic cases — and 4.9 percent received positive Binax rapid tests, which generally show positive results for people who are shedding the virus more heavily. 

The positivity rate was 8 percent among the Latinx residents tested. And 80 percent of those who tested positive were Latinx.

Furthermore, the speed at which the Binax rapid test delivered results — 15 minutes — meant that the wellness teams were able to reach most of the 80 residents who tested positive on the same day. A quick test-to-response model makes it easier to quickly stop someone from spreading the virus.  Some 30 percent of those who tested positive were asymptomatic.  

The clear and continued disparity between Latinx residents and the city’s overall positivity rate again raises questions about why more Covid-19 testing is not widely available in affected communities like the Mission District. 

“Why is there not a site [at 24th Street], led by the community, six days a week?” said Jon Jacobo, the chair of the Latino Task Force for Covid-19’s health committee. “We’re nine months into the pandemic.” 

Diane Jones, a retired HIV nurse at UCSF who is working at the 24th Street popup, agreed. “These testing sites, especially the Excelsior and 24th Street testing sites, are proven effective testing sites with the right kind of outreach … and partnerships,” she said.  

Right now, they are not permanent or daily. 

Positivity rates among Latinx residents are consistently higher than non-Latinx residents, according to Department of Public Health data drawn from all the city’s testing sites. In September, for example, 1.09 percent of non-Latinx residents tested positive for Covid-19, while Latinx residents tested positive at a rate of 7 percent. 

That disparity diminished only slightly in October. Latinx residents tested positive at a rate of 3.15 percent, while non-Latinx residents tested positive at a rate of 0.55 percent. 

The latest testing results at 24th Street only confirmed the need for more testing access in vulnerable communities, as well as resources for people that must skip work following a positive test, Jacobo said. 

Post-Thanksgiving

The preliminary pre-Thanksgiving results from 24th Street come as the Latino Task Force and UCSF conducts additional post-Thanksgiving testing at four sites in underserved neighborhoods: 24th Street BART in the Mission, Crocker-Amazon park in the Excelsior, the Mendell Plaza in the Bayview, and the 100 Block of Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin. 

On Sunday, the testing campaign — the largest to be conducted over a three-day period — tested 1,662 people, according to preliminary numbers. The results are not yet public, though Dr. Diane Havlir, a UCSF infectious disease professor and chief researcher in the study, predicted high positivity rates among Latinx residents as San Francisco — along with California and the entire country — experiences a Covid-19 surge. 

The Mission and the Excelsior saw overwhelming turnout on Sunday, the campaign’s first day. The Mission site conducted 551 tests, and the Excelsior site conducted 664 tests — turnout that underscored the demand among Latinx residents in those neighborhoods. 

The sites in the Bayview and Tenderloin, however, saw lower turnouts on Sunday than the campaign was hoping for: 176 tests in the Bayview and 260 in the Tenderloin. 

On Monday, the Bayview site saw a slight uptick in participants. Maritza Gomez, a youth services case manager at Mission Neighborhood Centers and a lead coordinator at the Bayview site, estimated that around 245 people were tested at the site, though she was still waiting for the final tally. 

“It’s better than what we ended at yesterday,” she said. “I’m happy. I think tomorrow will be better.” 

She credited the improved turnout to “word of mouth” among residents, media attention, and increasing trust among Bayview residents. 

Jacobo, who was also out at the site, saw the increasing numbers as progress in a community collaboration. “This is a brick along the road,” he said. “This is not the end destination.” 

Meanwhile, residents showing up for tests were at a “trickle” in the Tenderloin, according to Dr. Liz Imbert, an assistant UCSF professor and the doctor overseeing testing on Golden Gate Avenue on Monday. At around 1 p.m., she predicted that turnout might be a little less than the 260 that showed up on Sunday. 

Susana Rojas, a lead site coordinator with the Latino Task Force, agreed that the site was a little slower than Sunday. She said word spread that the site was not offering incentives, such as gift cards, to residents — so some people decided not to come. 

“Five-hundred is a goal but not necessary,” she said, explaining that if some sites with a higher demand needed tests, then sites with lower turnouts could share those unused tests.  

Rojas said the number of people tested at each site is not as important as “reaching the communities that need it.” 

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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5 Comments

  1. Months and months of testing have done nothing to diminish positivity rates amongst the Latinx residents of SF.

    The government won’t fund interventions that would prevent transmission. It just funds testing to name the problem after the fact.

    History will record that there were opportunities to intervene to save lives before the fact, but that corrupt Democrats and their patronage networks are articulated to launder money.

  2. “Why is there not a site [at 24th Street], led by the community, six days a week?”

    Simple – the esteemed supervisor “elected” in unanimity in an uncontested election is incompetent and unaccountable.

    It didn’t take a genius at the start of the previous surge (or even much earlier in the pandemic) that resources needed to be directed to The Mission post-haste with all the expediency and urgency demanded of an emergency situation.
    Forceful protests and vociferous demands needed to be exhibited by our top representative. Yet – it seems she found it more politically beneficial to work within The Family system rather than take on the Mayor and our sclerotic bureaucracy for the sake of our Latinx community.

  3. One of the real questions is why still so little masking amoung this population (noted on my weekly bike rides zig-zagging around the area since April)……testing is needed of course but prevention would help more.

  4. And as we speak there’s a 20 person mask-less LatinX soccer game going on at Mission playground. Part of the problem is Covid education and compliance.

    1. Hello Pat & all—–considering the huge amount of Spanish -language media plus so many Latinx people work hard in high risk jobs- cleaning hospitals etc.—I’m mystified about the masking thing. Cultural? (note the high percentage of masking in the east Asian populations.) Do they think “God will protect me”, as per Pres. Obrador of Mexico has said (talk about magical thinking!) I hope somehow everyone just wakes up. btw I have several doctors & nurses in my family so I know how bad a severe case of Covid can be

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