Latinx Positivity Still High as Task Force and UCSF Test City Residents, Essential Workers

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As Latinx San Franciscans continue to account for more than half of the city's overall COVID-19 cases, new statistics released Wednesday by the University of California at San Francisco and the city's COVID-19 Latino Task Force suggest testing at transit hubs could help reduce numbers. 

The latest data comes from testing conducted at the 24th Street BART station in the Mission and builds on data from a report released in April by the Latino Task Force and UCSF.

Last month, volunteers with the task force tested 2,622 people at the 24th Street BART station - an easily accessible transit hub - during a six-day period, averaging about 100 tests per hour. 

Among the participants, 235 people, or 9%, tested positive. Within the positive group, 93% identified as Latinx; 85% mainly spoke Spanish; 87% earned less than $50,000 annually; and 79% live in high-density households.

The data also showed that among all test participants who identified as Latinx, a relatively high 11% tested positive, compared with the city's overall test positivity rate of 2.61.

Data from the Department of Public Health shows Latinx residents make up 51.2% of the city's COVID-19 cases, and the Bayview, Hunters Point, Tenderloin, Mission, Excelsior and Visitacion Valley continue to see the most cases.

Although there are testing sites in the hardest-hit areas of San Francisco, officials with UCSF and the task force say those sites don't have enough capacity and aren't reaching all essential workers. 

Latino Task Force Health Committee Chair Jon Jacobo said Latinx essential workers remain vulnerable because many live in crowded conditions with extended family, and often must choose between a paycheck and their health.

"To me and many in the Latino Task Force, it's deeply personal, it's deeply painful, and it's deeply frustrating to see that we, from April to now, have not been able to get a grip or a handle on something like COVID-19," he said.

In light of the new data, UCSF and the task force are advocating for the city to expand free walk-up testing, available in Spanish and other languages, in the Mission and other neighborhoods, specifically in transit hubs, as essential workers tend to use public transportation. They're also calling on the city to strengthen contact tracing for residents, reduce the wait time for results, and provide quicker access to Right to Recover funds for essential workers who have tested positive as they quarantine.

“The strategy must be to come into the communities where we know that the prevalence of infection is higher. We know that it's high here in the Mission District, we know the Bayview is deeply impacted, we know the Excelsior also is, and so strategizing so that we can get low barrier testing with quick turnaround has to be a primary push, if we want to truly help this community and others," Jacobo said.

UCSF School of Medicine Vice Dean for Population Health and Health Equity Kristen Bibbins-Domingo, who helped lead the testing initiative, said testing at transit hubs is "really at the nexus of making testing widely available and low barrier, where the community needs it, but it also helps public health officials to understand transmission patterns. 

“We're not surprised to find that there are people who are positive riding public transportation throughout society at large," said BART spokesman Jim Allison, adding that the agency put measures to protect riders when the pandemic began, like handing out masks and providing space for social distancing.

"The results were anticipated, but it does galvanize us and reinforce the fact that we need to be diligent to keep people safe," he said.

UCSF officials said researchers plan to expand testing later this month at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland in order to learn more about transmission rates among Latinx essential workers.

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