A Mission resident is tested for COVID-19 during a pop up test site at 24th Mission Bart station. NOV 19-24, 2020 Photo by Mike Kai Chen

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.

Latino Task Force meets with volunteers in testing campaign. Photo by Mike Kai Chen.

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.” 

Susana Rojas, Dr. Carina Marquez, Dr. Diane Havlir. Photo by Mike Kai Chen.
Unidos en Salud staff and volunteers during a pop-up test site at 24th Mission Bart station where over 1,500 Mission residents were tested over a span of three days. Photo by Mike Kai Chen.
Jon Jacobo of the Latino Task Force for COVID-19 and Dr. Carina Marquez of UCSF during a pop up COVID-19 test site at 24th Mission Bart station. Photo by Mike Kai Chen.
Close to a hundred Mission residents line up during a free pop up COVID-19 test site at 24 Mission Bart Station. Photo by Mike Kai Chen.
Maria Coronado and Alison Brokke, volunteers with Unidos en Salud, canvass throughout the Mission neighborhood, putting up fliers notifying residents of free COVID-19 testing. Photo by Mike Kai Chen.

Julian Mark

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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14 Comments

  1. Everybody who reads this needs to call the Department of Public Health and the Mayor’s Office and raise bloody hell. This is as outrageous as it gets, it puts San Francisco in the same class as Red States in its pathological abandonment of the City’s Latinx population. Only when enough of us complain and say this is absolutely unacceptable will the assholes who run this city actually do something about this. Because, clearly, they don’t give a shit. We all need to take responsibility about this and take action.

  2. The data point “93% of people tested at the site were Latinx” would mean more if we also knew what percentage of ALL people tested at the site were Latinx.

  3. What we need is to have a permanent location IN THE MISSION instead of these occasional pop-ups for these tests.
    Our community can not properly come to grips with the extent of the impact of this pandemic without REAL-TIME continuous information.
    These pop-ups only provide a snapshot of the moment. How as a community, without accurate and current information be able to demand a plan for a proper response to this crisis.

  4. I think more targeted and very specific dos and donts education is needed. From my casual talks with people on Mission I find that conspiracy theory about the virus is widespread.

  5. The medical assessment of the relatively high infection rate: Latinx community, low-income, front-line workers living in crowded households continue to be disproportionately affected

    The Task Force response: We’re still waiting on grant money to support community wellness..Is it that they just don’t really care…Is it that they do [care] and they don’t know what to do?

    My question is just what the Task Force can do with funds that resolves the medical assessment of the cause? PPE can’t eliminate poverty and overcrowding. Outreach with information and materials can’t eliminate front line workers from being repeatedly exposed to many infected people.

    1. Why is this unaccountable Task Force even a thing? Isn’t this an indictment of the lack of connection of the DPH to The Mission as much as it is an indictment of mission-fungible nonprofits assuming the mantle of leadership in this created vacuum? The agencies are no more nimble than government. This kind of public service should reside within the public sector and not be privatized, outsourced to corporations.

  6. Pretty sure SFDPH cares and is just not sure what to do. They can certainly increase testing in affected areas, but that doesn’t guarantee enough testing to reduce incidence in the Latino community. Short of mass surveillance testing, which is not possible without rapid tests, you can’t catch all the asymptomatic people needed to blunt transmission. (For instance, though we are logging 200 new reported cases a day, it’s likely we’re still missing more than 2 out of every 3 cases in the city). If you live in a household with more people, the attack rate of the virus in your household could be 3X that of a household with lower density. That means that even if we test more in the LatinX community, there will be much more spread from asymptomatic people in those households if they have higher number of occupants. That too, many of the people I know would not quarantine in a hotel apart from their children or parents, even if they did test positive, because they are needed in caregiver roles. It’s a challenging problem. SFDPH can do more, but I don’t think their failure is from a lack of caring — if only because there’s simply no way to stop transmission without rooting out pockets of high transmission. That’s public health 101.

  7. Barriers around the 24th BART station (to keep people from congregating and crowding?) now have people more crowded than ever with poor social distancing.
    MUNI buses (with reduced service) have become almost as crowded as they were B.C. (before COVID)– Russian Roulette if CDC and city guidelines are to be believed. This definitely includes the 14.
    The initial scramble to test people in the Mission ahead of other neighborhoods gave me the impression that city health concerns were not free of agenda-driven identity politics.

  8. Someone might want to let the 2 maskless ladies sitting in the Latino task force meeting that Covid doesn’t stop being contagious just because you want to eat a sandwich.

  9. Where is the forceful leadership from our supervisor?
    Cannot recall her name even being mentioned in recent Mission Local Covid articles.
    Ugh … no point for another rant on the obvious.
    And besides – seems no one wants to push her to action.

    I’ll just say this:
    Yo! Seacliff – your sewer is clogged and the hardworking LatinX person is coming to root your drain and save you! They live in The Mission.

  10. A big shout-out to Unidos En Salud and UCSF for performing these tests. We waited in line just a little over an hour to get a rapid Abbott Binax test and backup PCR test the Monday before Thanksgiving (in the end, we decided not to visit with family this year). Having a negative preliminary result within 2 hours and a backup confirmatory PCR in 24 hours is an amazing undertaking, and they did it flawlessly.

    We got tested because a friend in our social circle got a positive PCR result from SF City & County/COLOR; they provided no adequate contact tracing or follow-up and said to check in with our primary healthcare provider after 10 days[!?]. Thankfully, the two subsequent tests on or friend indicated that his preliminary test from City & County/COLOR was actually a rare a false-positive result.

    In the end, I have nothing but amazing things to say about UCSF and Unidos En Salud. Test results can be confusing and inaccurate. Unlike City & County, UCSF is performing these tests the thoughtful and rational way (doing both rapid Binax and backup PCR at the same time).

    Thank you for providing this valuable service, and for taking such good care of our neighborhood!

  11. “UCSF studies have offered the city a blueprint for action ”

    So what is the “blueprint for action” – how about print that info or at least providing a link?

  12. What good does it do to test if the back side of mitigation isn’t happening? Which means isolating the positive person, doing effective contact tracing and isolating those who have had been exposed. Otherwise, why bother? And if, as another comment suggests, even those testing positive wouldn’t or couldn’t take a free quarantine room, once again, what’s the use?

  13. Look we all know the truth: Latinos are far more likely to engage in socializing with masks off, especially indoor with extended family. There is nothing that city workers can do to change this behavior.

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