As Covid-19 cases ramp up nationwide, so will the response from one Mission community health site.
Amid the surge and increased local demand, Unidos en Salud, the organization behind the vaccine and testing site at 24th and Capp streets, will add another day to its current one-day schedule.
Leaders at the Unidos en Salud said it will adopt a “flex model,” allowing the site to adjust its schedule depending on the situation and community need going forward.
“We need to ensure that disparities in access to services and care do not widen during this phase,” said Dr. Diane Havlir, a leader at the site and the associate chair of clinical research at the University of California, San Francisco’s department of medicine. “This is where Latino Task Force leadership and our community site comes in.”
The schedule will resume to Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., said Diane Jones, a Unidos leader and a former HIV nurse.
The Unidos site has been a major resource to Mission and Latinx residents, allowing anyone to walk up and receive free covid and flu vaccinations, tests, medication, and HIV and diabetes screening in English or Spanish.
Now that there’s a new mini-surge of cases, “demand is increasing” at the 24th Street site again, Jones said.
The site had scaled back its operations from two days to one day a week in August, but will now move to two for the foreseeable future. The expectation of a fall surge could spur even more expanded services: Unidos is cobbling together a mix of public and private funding ahead of the colder months, when a Unidos “Triple Vax” campaign is planned to encourage vaccinations of the respiratory viruses covid, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Over time, Unidos became a key health player for Latinxs in the Mission, who were especially vulnerable to contagion in the pandemic. Unidos has been recognized by the city’s health department as a positive example of building trust among historically underserved populations.
Unidos quickly responded during the monkeypox epidemic, too, and started providing vaccines and education as soon as it emerged.
But now that covid is endemic and the federal public health emergency was declared over in spring 2023, many covid efforts and programs are being cut, particularly those helping Black and Latinx communities and those in the southeast of San Francisco.
New variants in SF
Meanwhile, San Francisco is seeing an uptick in cases just like the rest of the country. San Francisco’s covid positivity rate has been steadily increasing since July, and the latest reliable 7-day rolling average reports it at 7 percent, according to San Francisco Department of Public Health data. Hospitalizations have been slowly rising, too — though not nearly to the amount seen at the height of the pandemic. There were 52 hospitalizations by Aug. 26, compared to 288 in early January 2022.
A new variant, BA.2.86, was identified in the United States in August. Health experts said its infectiousness or severity presently remains unclear. The Unidos site also conducts its surveillance which has been “important for public health,” Havlir said, though it’s not clear yet which variant is driving current cases. In the past, Unidos and the Chan Zuckerberg BioHub, a medical science research center, likely first identified the omicron variant when it hit the Mission in late 2021.
Health experts working in local communities fear that residents in those communities will be disproportionately harmed by mini-surges again. Those who don’t have access to health insurance may struggle to get affordable tests, medication or vaccines, and those living in overcrowded housing are more at risk for infection.
“We also need to make sure that persons have access to home covid self-testing, and that those without resources to access or purchase tests are not being left behind,” Havlir said.
“We know anecdotally that [the Latinx] community is still being impacted by covid, so what do we do?” Jones said.
This story was updated Sept. 11, 2023 with the new hours.