governor gavin newsom stands at a podium addressing press (off camera) while susana rojas stands to his right and senator scott wiener stands to his left in front of a vaccination tent
Governor Gavin Newsom addressed the press and Unidos en Salud partners at the 24th & Capp streets testing and vaccination site on Nov. 22 with Susana Rojas, left, Latino Task Force communications chair, and Senator Scott Wiener, right. Photo by Anlan Cheney.

Gov. Gavin Newsom arrived at the corner of 24th and Capp streets Monday morning to prioritize boosters and celebrate community-based partnerships.

The spot was chosen with purpose: the Mission-grown collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco, and the Latino Task Force, known as Unidos en Salud/United in Health, has become a model for testing, vaccination and resource sites guided by science and community service.  

“I had the privilege of being all over the state of California, visiting sites large and small, and you know when sites are distinctive with their excellence,” said Newsom. “This is one of those sites doing the important work that we’re here to promote.”

And the numbers spoke for themselves. “At this site, we have offered over 40,000 vaccines, 4,000 boosters, 700 pediatric vaccines, and over 60,000 tests,” said Susana Rojas, executive director of Calle 24 Latino Cultural District and the Latino Task Force’s communications chair. 

Read more about the Latino Task Force

“This is an actual representation of what happens when community and scientific minds come together to provide services with dignity, love, and respect … when the community is put first,” said Rojas.

Unidos en Salud, financed for months primarily through private donations and heavy fundraising by UCSF, has supported more than 7,000 families with covid-related and other wraparound services.

In the last year, the San Francisco Department of Public Health has stepped in to fund the Alabama Street resource hub, and it has become a model for city-funded hubs in the Bayview and Excelsior that provide food relief and other on-site services, such as help with filling out applications for rent and unemployment relief. 

More congratulations came from State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who also had a hand in the effort from the beginning. “You saved lives and made people’s lives better,” he said, addressing the Latino Task Force and their partner representatives, including UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood; Dr. Diane Havlir, the research lead from UCSF; Dr. Joe DeRisi from the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, which provided early and frequent free testing services; and Dr. Grant Colfax, director of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health.

Read about Dr. Havlir

“The Mission was really hard hit, not just by the virus, but also by the economic fallout of this pandemic,” said Wiener, who noted $1 million was invested in the Latino Task Force’s food relief program from the state.

He also lauded Newsom for his willingness “to take the political heat and the fallout to do what’s right for the long-term health and wellbeing of our community,” and for “getting out ahead” and authorizing boosters for all adults.

As children got the jab in the background, not without a cry or two, Newsom reminded the assembled press and community partners that there is still work to do to avoid surges like those seen last winter. 

But there were things to celebrate, too. As of this morning, California laid claim to the nation’s lowest covid positivity rate at 1.9 percent. “That’s because of the good work that all of you have been doing,” he said, turning to the Unidos en Salud staff and community partners. 

He stressed that the progress made in rolling out booster doses, and vaccines to children ages 5 to 11, fall under the  “imperative of equity.”

“That’s why we specifically chose this site, not only for its efficacy and for its success, but also because we are promoting the importance, particularly in the Latino community, to get boosters and to get vaccinated,” said Newsom.

He cited how only 17 percent of boosters were administered to Latinxs in the state, whereas Latinxs make up nearly 40 percent of the state’s population. 

“That’s why we’re here,” he said. He announced that new public service announcements (PSAs) and “dozens” of community-based partnerships like Unidos en Salud will be introduced throughout the state “in an effort to make sure we reach out and close that divide. This is a divide that is closing.”

The press also brought questions related to flexibility on child vaccination requirements in schools, vaccine mandates for teachers, new therapeutics, and his approach to addressing smash-and-grab retail theft like those seen over the weekend in San Francisco and Walnut Creek.

Newsom stressed openness and a reliance on scientific evidence for future decision-making related to vaccine requirements for kids and mandates. “The virus [and mutations] would dictate those terms, and of course, we’re not ideological about it,” he said, noting that the state has a framework for personal belief, medical and religious exemptions.

On preparing for new treatments and therapeutics, Newsom emphasized the strategy would remain prevention-focused: “Boosters are the preferred strategy. Vaccines are the preferred strategy. Avoiding getting this virus by wearing face coverings, the preferred strategy.”

Like his aggressive approach toward the pandemic, Newsom promised tough action on retail thefts seen over the weekend. “There’s no empathy, no sympathy for these kinds of criminal gangs and elements, and they need to be held to account,” he said, citing the efforts of the Organized Retail Theft Program, which was convened in July, and an increased police presence requested by retailers, which the state will support.

Newsom’s visit ultimately landed on how the future of California’s covid response will encompass what it learned from working with partners engaged in community-specific responses like that of the Unidos en Salud collaboration in southern San Francisco. Local schools and pharmacies will continue to play a large role in the response, too, he said. 

“There is no substitute for meeting people where they are,” said Newsom, “knocking on doors, quite literally going into communities, not asking people to come to a location, but going to them.” 

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"Annie" is originally from Nebraska, where she found her calling to journalism as editor of her high school newsletter. Before returning to the field, she studied peace and political science in the Balkans, taught elementary and middle school, and worked as an epidemiologist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow her on Twitter @anlancheney.

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