A mass-testing of 1,650 people at the 24th Street BART from Sunday to Tuesday revealed a 9 to 10 percent Covid-19 positivity rate for those tested following the Thanksgiving holiday.
A three-day testing campaign at the same BART station three days before Thanksgiving showed 6 percent of those tested were positive for the virus.
Eighty percent of those who tested positive in the pre-Thanksgiving study were Latinx.
Dr. Diane Havlir, a UCSF professor of infectious diseases and the chief researcher on the project, said in an email that the increase in positive Covid-19 cases reflects a “serious and rapidly increasing trajectory in the city that we are seeing.”
“The holidays may have contributed to this increase, but the current surge started weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday,” Havlir added. “Latinx community, low-income, front-line workers living in crowded households continue to be disproportionately affected.”
The results — which the testing campaign’s organizers emphasized are still preliminary — are only a sliver of the forthcoming results of a much larger testing drive conducted at four locations in San Francisco from Sunday to Tuesday. Those locations include 24th Street BART, Bayview’s Mendell Plaza, the 100 Block of Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin, and Crocker-Amazon Park in the Excelsior. The campaign tested approximately 6,893 people.
The 24th Street BART station was the only location that tested people before and after Thanksgiving. It was also the only location to use the Binax rapid test.
The other three locations tested people for three days beginning on the Sunday following Thanksgiving. Results from those locations are still pending.
But the early numbers at 24th Street BART in the Mission tell a story that community organizers are tired of hearing.
“I was so upset and so angry, knowing that here we are, in December, with the same [results] we had in April — and the city has done virtually nothing for the community that’s been hit hardest,” said Jon Jacobo, a member of the Latino Task Force for Covid-19, a coalition of Mission District community organizations formed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Indeed, multiple studies in the Mission District showed that Latinx residents — many of them essential workers who work and live in crowded conditions — are disproportionately affected by the virus, as Havlir noted.
Data from the Department of Public Health also shows that Latinx residents are consistently contracting the virus at a ratio of at least 5 to 1 compared to the rest of the city. In June, that ratio was 10 to 1.
Even though the city is aware of those grim statistics — and the UCSF studies have offered the city a blueprint for action — Jacobo said the response from the city has been insufficient.
Yes, he acknowledged, leadership from the Department of Public Health has made adjustments — such as moving one of the city’s largest free testing sites from SoMa to the Alemany Farmers Market — but those actions have been reactive and “performative,” he said.
Moreover, because DPH has declined to release information on who is being tested at Alemany, there is no way to assess whether the testing is reaching the Latinx population there.
During a news briefing on Tuesday, Colfax rattled off the actions that the Department of Public Health has taken so far — in response to a question by Mission Local about what the Health Department is doing to address the disparities.
“We are focused on the equity related issues that this pandemic has brought forward,” and “we have engaged the Latino community from the very beginning,” Colfax said.
The bulk of those resources, however, kick in after a resident gets sick.
He said the department has “invested in testing isolation and quarantine rooms that are made available to people free of charge, invested in food security, contact tracing and health care — [and] are working with multiple Latino organizations to strengthen our Latino strategy.”
But, in response, Jacobo asked: “Where are the results?”
The city has yet to distribute any Covid-19 funds to the Latino Task Force. “We’re still waiting on grant money to support community wellness,” Jacobo said.
The recent study was funded by UCSF and private donors that the school has attracted.
A testing campaign conducted this summer at the 24th Street BART station of 2,622 Bay Area residents showed that 93 percent of those who tested positive were Latinx. An April study of Mission District residents showed that 95 percent of those who tested positive were Latinx.
Based on the preliminary results, those numbers appear not to have improved much.
Jacobo remains baffled. “Is it that they just don’t really care?” he asked. “Is it that they do [care] and they don’t know what to do?”
“It’s confusing,” he added, “and it’s frustrating — and it has painful results.”