A technician swabs a little boy. Photo by Mike Kai Chen, January 10, 2021

Of the more than 3,000 people tested at the 24th Street BART Plaza in the first week of a three-week test and research campaign, nearly one in 10 tested positive for Covid-19, according to researchers. The results were slightly worse when looking at Latinx residents, who represented 73 percent of all those tested. 

The campaign was launched Jan. 10 by the University of California San Francisco’s and the Latino Task Force’s Unidos en Salud (United in Health), a testing and research alliance that began in April.  

Since last Sunday, residents and workers have lined up early to get the Binax rapid test and with the preliminary results showing a 9.3 percent positivity rate, the current campaign results reflect a Covid-19 surge that exceeds the numbers found during an earlier post-Thanksgiving holiday campaign. At that time, 6.4 percent of those being tested with Binax came back positive, according to the final results.

“The rates are alarming, but not unexpected, due to the fact that we are in a surge,” wrote Dr. Diane Havlir, the chief of UCSF’s division of HIV/AIDS, infectious disease, and global medicine, and who has performed Unidos en Salud covid studies since last spring. 

The Binax test, which can deliver results in as little as 15 minutes, has allowed the test and research campaign to respond on the same day to get Covid-19 positive residents quarantined and prevent the virus from spreading to others. Diane Jones, a former UCSF HIV nurse, also said that the Binax picks up individuals “early on in the infectious process, when they are most infectious.  PCR will capture almost everyone who’s infected but doesn’t differentiate between infectious and non-infectious.”

In the first week  the effort has tested 3,184 individuals — on average, more than 600 a day — and 9.3 percent of them, or 297 were positive. When it came to Latinx testers, 10.8 percent were positive, echoing similar trends in previous Unidos en Salud studies.

Those rates compare to a citywide positivity rate of 4.95 percent, a rate that masks how much more Covid-19 some communities confront.

Havlir pointed out that those disparities have been the same since last April when UCSF and the Latino Task Force did their first study.

A major goal of the rapid test campaign was to significantly shorten the time between a person getting tested and a positive result ending in a quarantine. Now that people learn they are positive within two hours of getting tested, those who opt in will get contacted and asked if they need any assistance to isolate that same day by a Community Wellness Team member, who then assesses people’s needs, gives advice, and delivers food. 

They are offered resources like isolation and quarantine hotels, access to Right to Recover funds when available, and food.

By mid-Saturday, upwards of 150 people asked to be referred and received food and other supplies, said Susana Rojas, a Latino Task Force member who helps coordinate the study’s Community Wellness Teams .

In addition, for covid-positive residents living in households of more than four people, the team offers at home testing for the rest of the household. 

Because there are so many positives and so many respondents, and because the time-frame is much shorter, Rojas and her daughter Susy, who coordinates the team, have been working “16-hour days for the past week,” Rojas said. 

Some challenges: figuring out how to gather enough fresh food quickly, and making sure members of the same family are put in the same delivery order and under the same case manager. Still, Rojas said they’re not behind except for harder-to-get resources, “like if someone ran out of medicine” and needs someone to pick it up so they can stay isolated. 

The consistently high numbers of participants is a bit unusual, for in past campaigns, after the launch day, numbers of participants tended to dwindle. Rojas said she believes it’s due to a variety of factors, the first being that the outreach and established reputation lured more people to the line this time. 

“People are being used to getting treated with love and respect,” she said. But also, more people want to be tested given the post-holiday surge, when residents traveled, friends and family gathered, and gathering outdoors in chilly weather was less than appealing. In pre- and post-Thanksgiving testing effort, positivity also shot up

Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax announced this week that the city is reporting its worst case rate, which can help measure how fast the virus is spreading. As of Saturday, the city reported a total of 28,221 cases and 254 deaths so far. 

Especially by January, the effects of the virus now seem to touch almost everyone, Rojas said.” In the beginning, people would say, ‘oh, it’s only one percent.’ Now, it’s like, ‘I know someone who died,’” Rojas said. 

While the city has poured extra testing resources and funding into the Latinx community in the past few months, the disease disparities remain, many of which stem from overcrowded housing and frontline work. 

The Latinx population is 15 percent in the city, but Latinx residents make up 43 percent of the cases. This figure has decreased somewhat. Throughout 2020, Latinx residents represented 45 to nearly 51 percent of all Covid cases. 

The recent surge, however, has hit the Mission and Bayview Hunter’s Point particularly hard. Between Dec. 14 and Jan. 12, DPH reported 822 new cases in the Mission, or 138 new cases per 10,000 residents. Bayview Hunters Point racked up 879 new cases, or 235 new cases per 10,000 residents. The Citywide average over that period was 95 new cases per 10,000 residents.

Jon Jacobo, the head of the health committee at the Latino Task Force, said they are urging the city to also do more testing in Bayview and other impacted communities.  

The data from 2020 shows that Latinx residents here were five times more likely to get exposed to covid than any other race.

The rapid testing campaign continues until Jan. 29 on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. at 24th and Mission BART Station Plaza. No ID, insurance or appointments are required, though people with insurance are asked to get tested with their provider. 

Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

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11 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article. As with everything, I am not surprised at all by the numbers. I am disappointed that this program is only lasting three weeks, I guess because it is a study and not an actual program.

    If it lasted for many months and added a vaccination component, then our city would really be doing right by its hardest working and most vulnerable residents. Until then, those tested are just test subjects, right?

  2. It does not surprise me that the Mission has the highest rate of Covid-19 cases. On Christmas Eve, I walked to my bank at 24th @ Mission St and then to the Post Office @ Van Ness & 23rd and was appalled to witness groups of Latinx men on the sidewalk without masks, drinking beer, laughing and talking. And no one practicing Social Distancing at all. It made me sad, angry, disappointed and disgusted all at the same time.

    1. Yes and I have experienced how unreliable it is myself as well as countless People I know. I find this article ridiculous. Doctors have forgotten people have a connection between mind and body. Let’s stop telling healthy people they are sick. It would be one thing if it was reliable but it isn’t! Let’s tell healthy People to isolate and wait to get sick or even worse wait to die. How many people are home just making themselves sick because of the mental stress and strain. The cdc even came out and said the rapid is even more unreliable then originally thought. FDA is saying the same thing. Let’s follow the science ! I keep hearing from doctors the test is only unreliable if it is negative? I’m not following the logic on that. I realize there is probably a better safe than sorry mentality but again telling healthy people they are sick and should isolate from their even immediate families isn’t a great option. Also not an option for some! Common sense has left the building.

  3. One walk around the Mission, especially Garfield Park, and it blows the mind that the Latino Task Force, Calle24 and any other services are not working with the City Depts to force the socializing/drinking/gambling that is occurring to end. At Garfield park there is a very nice family that sets up a food (restaurant) and feeds folks for money, often with no masks on. It is infuriating, that this isn’t being stopped by the Latinx Community services, while the Latinx Covid rates are so astronomically high. The usual plan is to give out masks and as soon as the mask givers are gone they mostly take them off. These folks, who like us, are restless, then go home and the spread continues.

  4. i haven’t seen any Latinx in the mission last time i was on 24th, only Latin people.
    although i saw a few Locx Gringx.

    please stop that nonsensx!

    1. How it works:
      Latinos do the grunt work all over this city.
      Notice how many construction and remodeling projects are on-going?
      Roofing (the second deadliest job after fishing) is just about all Latinos.
      Construction, demolition, scaffolding, painting, the list goes on.
      It is completely impractical to wear masks and “social distance” within the team environment required to execute these tasks.
      There is no practical solution including shutting everything down completely.
      The City has become entirely dependent upon this workforce continuing to work – no matter what.
      So it comes as no surprise Latinos socially fraternize in the same manner in which they get thru the workday although reports of this behavior may be exaggerated.
      The above is not intended to exclude economically essential work performed by Latinas and other Latinx workers.

      To the matter at hand:
      It is shocking that once again the 24th BART is still in yet another “test and research campaign”.
      WTF?

      Here’s an epidemiological theory:
      Vaccinate the most affected community FIRST.
      Especially as this community performs an essential daily migration to all parts of The City inclusive of residences and other environments where the most vulnerable populations exist.

      Save the Gringx!
      Vaccinate the Latinx!

      Duh.

      (Thanks jean paul for that Gringx thing)

      1. “It is completely impractical to wear masks and “social distance” within the team environment required to execute these tasks.”

        It’s ALWAYS practical to wear a mask. Maybe slightly annoying, but very easy and practical. Social distancing is a different story.

        Wearing a mask is MORE important than social distancing. Put one on and encourage others to do so.

        1. Unless you have worked with a crew three stories up on a steep pitch San Francisco roof recently – we’ll just have to disagree. The most prevalent concern is not falling off.

          As a 100% mask wearer and enthusiast – it just don’t work up there in the middle of a complex, exceedingly dirty and dangerous job. We tried it. Usually it’s blowing up there so there’s the “outside” factor working in our favor.

    2. I knew the Loco Gringos back in the day, before they all overdosed on heroin,

      The project to degender Spanish is global, I’ve seen examples in Spain, Mexico City as well as here in the US.

    3. and, lots of those folks perceived as “Latinx” by Gringx are not latin at all neither hispanic. they are natives/first nation/indigenous from central america (guatemala in particular) and mexico. often they don’t speak spanish and if, only rudimentary. the language they speak is one of the mayan dialects and has nothing to to with any latin idiom.

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