San Francisco officials will likely implement additional “rollbacks and restrictions” to shopping, gathering and traveling as early as tomorrow, as the city and state stare down a tidal wave of coronavirus cases and officials attempt to prevent hospitals from being flooded with patients.
“We’ve been worried for months, but now it’s real: the dangerous winter has arrived,” Mayor London Breed said emphatically at a 1 p.m. news conference Tuesday via Zoom. “The truth is, we are going to have to take more restrictive action.”
The mayor — seemingly beleaguered on all fronts, now with a widening federal corruption probe that has implicated her City Administrator, Naomi Kelly — said that she and her administration are “still working out the details” on new restrictions on business activity and resident behavior.
But she and Dr. Grant Colfax, the Department of Public Health director, said they are mulling mandatory travel quarantines, limits on gathering sizes, and limits on indoor shopping capacities. Specifics could be announced as early as Wednesday.
Those restrictions would be in addition to a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that went into effect Monday and the recent rollback on all indoor dining. San Francisco was forced to abide by those restrictions as it entered the state’s “purple tier” Saturday — meaning case counts and hospitalizations are rising to dangerous levels. Moreover, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he is considering another statewide stay-at-home order.
“We are now feeling the pressure of the rapidly accelerating cases at hospitals across San Francisco,” Colfax said.
He said that Covid-positive hospitalizations have doubled in a recent 10-day period — from 40 on Nov. 18 to 87 hospitalizations on Nov. 28. Since then, four more Covid patients have been transferred to city hospitals to make that total 91.
“Unfortunately, if we continue on this path, we — as well as other Bay Area counties — will start seeing a hospital bed shortage,” Colfax said.
Colfax added that “the worst is yet to come,” as his department predicts Thanksgiving gathering and travel will only cause the already grim statistics to worsen. He and Breed pleaded with San Francisco residents to limit their behavior — to not gather outside of their immediate households (especially indoors), stay home if they are sick, wash their hands and wear a face covering.
However, left largely unaddressed — and cursorily explained when asked — is what the city plans to do about testing and helping quarantine the demographic that has been most impacted and has therefore made up the lion’s share of cases: namely, Latinx residents.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Covid-19 positivity rates among Latinx residents have been starkly higher than the rest of the city’s population — by ratios that, since April, have not dipped below 5 to 1. In June, that number was 10 to 1.
And, when UCSF and the Latino Task Force have offered testing, vulnerable residents have shown up to test, but the city has consistently failed to offer convenient, seven-day a week testing in the locations that have proved successful. It is unclear why.
Only since Nov. 17 has the city offered a fixed testing site in the southeastern part of the city, at the Alemany Farmers Market. It’s unclear who is using the testing site, and if the outreach has successfully drawn Latinx residents and workers. Two pop-up sites run by UCSF and the Latino Task Force that end testing today at the 24th Street BART Station and in the Excelsior have been oversubscribed.
The lack of testing means positivity for Latinx residents has remained high. In September, for example, Latinx residents tested positive for the virus at a rate of 7 percent, while other groups tested positive collectively at 1.09 percent.
Those numbers were further underscored by preliminary results of a UCSF/Latino Task Force testing drive conducted before Thanksgiving at the 24th Street BART station. Of the 1,651 people tested, 6 percent were positive for the virus. And 80 percent of those who tested positive were Latinx.
Colfax said the city is working to address the disparities. “We have engaged the Latino community from the very beginning, 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,” he said.
Moreover, he said, the health department has created more pop-up testing sites in the southeastern part of the city, such as the Mission and the Bayview. And it relocated a free city testing site to the Alemany Farmers Market — though appointments for that site are often backed up for weeks.
What Colfax did not include in his list was a free, permanent and daily testing site that many Latinx residents can easily access, as well as a more robust system for supporting people who test positive and must skip work. Right now, a program meant to do that relies on the whims of private donors and is not equipped to cover the demand.
Community organizers say those measures are necessary to help Latinx essential workers.
“Why is there not a site [at 24th Street], led by the community, six days a week?” Jon Jacobo, the chair of the Latino Task Force for Covid-19’s health committee, told Mission Local yesterday. “We’re nine months into the pandemic.”