UCSF doctors and community leaders from the Mission, Tenderloin, Bayview, Excelsior during a pop up test site at the 24th Mission Bart station in preparation for putting on 4 more test sites in their own respective neighborhoods. Unidos en Salud (United in Health) a partnership between the Latino Task Force for COVID19, UC San Francisco, and the San Francisco Department of Health canvased and tested close to 1500 residents over 3 days at the 24th Mission Bart station in the Mission District of San Francisco focused on the most vulnerable Latino population. Nov 19-24. Photo by Mike Kai Chen

Covid-19 rates remain stubbornly high among low-income Latinx residents, according to the results of a post-Thanksgiving testing campaign carried out by UCSF and the Latino Task Force. Moreover, it appears that the 24th Street BART station offers the city an easy and sure way to find new Covid cases and stop the virus from spreading. 

Although we wrote about the preliminary results last week, UCSF researchers gave a formal slide presentation Monday morning to the Latino Task Force. The two have partnered in Unidos En Salud (United in Health) testing campaigns since April of this year.

Of the 1,641 people tested at the 24th Street BART station from Sunday, Nov. 29, through Tuesday, Dec. 1, 9 percent tested positive and, among Latinx residents, 10.2 percent tested positive. This followed three days of pre-Thanksgiving testing that returned an overall positivity rate of 6 percent for Latinx residents.  

In total, the post-Thanksgiving campaign tested 5,147 residents at four sites: the 24th Street Bart Station, the Excelsior, Bayview, and the Tenderloin. The overall positivity rate for the campaign’s four sites was 4.6 percent and the Latinx positivity rate was 6.5 percent. At present, the city’s positivity rate is 3.11 percent. 

The positivity results from sites in the Excelsior, Bayview, and Tenderloin were more in line with the city’s overall positivity rates. 

Positivity results by site.

At the 24th Street BART site, which also ran three days of testing before Thanksgiving, researchers paired the reliable PCR test with Abbott’s BinaxNOW rapid test to assess the rapid test’s effectiveness. 

“We are detecting over 99 percent,” of those who are highly infectious — with or without symptoms — in a test that takes 15 minutes to get results, said Dr. Diane Havlir, the chief of UCSF’s Division of HIV/AIDS, Infectious Disease, and Global Medicine. “And, essentially, we have practically no false positives.”

The rapid test had also been used successfully in September at the 16th Street BART station, but the sample was smaller.  

The results could have implications for the city using targeted rapid tests when it begins to again reopen. The beauty of the rapid test is that those who test positive know quickly and can immediately quarantine to stop the spread of the virus. 

Frontline workers and aggressive outreach

As has been true in earlier UCSF/Latino Task Force campaigns, the vast majority of the Latinx population — 79 percent in this study — that tested positive were low-income and work in food and beverage service, or are day laborers. Some 42 percent of those tested were asymptomatic, and only 45 percent of the cases came from a known contact. 

So far, the researchers do not know specifically where people are contracting the virus. In response to an email question about this, Dr. Havlir wrote: “This is the question everyone wants the answer to. The virus, from the start, took hold in the Latinx community in SF, and has continued to spread — most likely a combination of home, social gatherings, and work settings that have not implemented appropriate safety measures.”

If the campaign has not yet answered that riddle, it demonstrated that aggressive outreach and accessibility can draw the Latinx population to testing sites. That population represents 15 percent of the city’s residents but 46 percent of its covid cases and 23 percent of the covid deaths. 

Attracting Latinx residents and workers to test has been difficult at many of the Department of Public Health’s pop-up and fixed sites. That was not the case in this three-day study. 

Overall, 53 percent of those tested in the campaign were Latinx: 71 percent were Latinx in the Mission, 50 percent in the Excelsior, 36 percent in the Tenderloin, and 36 percent in the Bayview. 

Even at its recently opened testing site at the Alemany Farmers Market, the city has had difficulty drawing Latinx residents. Of the 6,677 people tested at Alemany between Nov. 17 and Dec. 12, 22 percent were Latinx, according to figures from the Department of Public Health.  

Jon Jacobo, who chairs the health committee for the Latino Task Force,  attributed the campaign’s success to its targeted approach and its on-the-ground outreach. 

“We do not necessarily believe in just flyering neighborhoods,” Jacobo said. “That is obviously a tool that is utilized, but the door-to-door knocking and talking to neighbors is what helps alleviate some of the anxiety that people might have” around going to a testing site. 

The mobilization included door to door visits in census tracts with high positivity rates.

For Havlir, the takeaway of how to reach the Latinx population was clear: “We need education and outreach and multiple types of low barrier testing. In some areas, it makes sense to be walk-up — in other areas, drive-through is the easiest,” she wrote in an email. 

At 24th Street, Dr. Carina Marquez also carried out a small study offering at-home testing to residents who lived in households with four or more people. 

The 14 households that agreed to participate ranged in size from four to 12 people;  95 percent identified as Latinx and 77 percent preferred communicating in Spanish. Some 51 percent included children, and 33 percent shared a room with a person who had tested positive for covid. 

Marquez called the response paired with data, “science for action.”

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Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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  1. I carry a sign that says” Please wear a mask” and in Spanish on the other side. I was giving away my mask at the same time. But, I ran out so quickly. The Latino men just look at me up & down. Not pretty enough, huh! I still would give them a mask! I hate to say it but, I’m mad at my Latino men & women race. And I’m sure others are also. We are never going to back to normal. I want to go to Mexico and see my primo’s new baby cousin’s. It will be another year? So sad I am getting. And I have always been one to help others. But this situation is getting out of hand!. Latino men & women seem to not care and are too comfortable being here. So what can we do? Walk down the streets and MASK-UP! Let’s do it. Be in Control! We should all be accounted for and respected in the whole United States.

  2. As other commentators have noted … all the DPH and other ‘specialists’ need to do is walk down 24th from Potrero to Mission, then up Mission to 14th and they will see first hand WHY there is an issue. Simple point prevalence study will show gross inconsistency in the basic tenets of masking and social distancing. Shut down all of the sidewalk commerce, disperse those who are simply loitering, and remind people in both English and Spanish to MASK UP appropriately! Do it all day every day until there is no longer an issue. The leaders in the LatinX community need to step up and be participants instead of simply recipients of city intervention.

  3. I’ve posted before about the lack of masking and groups gathering closely noted in the Mission. Considering so many Latinx work hard in jobs that put them at risk you would think they would be near -fanatic about staying safe……..

  4. tell all latino macho man to wear a mask and the problem will be solved. I see dozens of them walking around the mission without mask, or with the mask down their chin daily…

  5. Another article that testing shows high rates of virus. But…has anyone…anyone…done anything to stop the spread of the virus in those high percentage communities? What’s being done by the groups up in arms about the test result to lower the virus spread ?????

  6. I can’t help but look at that photo, of people who don’t live together crowded closely together — yes, even with masks — for that photo. Will a single exposure of less than 3 minutes lead to transmission? Probably not. Is it troubling, coming from those who are supposed to be health role models? Yes.