In May the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) released data that confirmed earlier results that the 94103-zip code, South-of-Market (SoMa), has the City’s greatest intensity of individuals testing positive for the novel coronavirus, approximately 46 per 10,000 residents. The 94124-zip code, Bayview-Hunters Point, has the second highest concentration, approximately 41 per 10,000 residents tested positive. The 94107-zip code, Potrero Hill and Dogpatch; and the 94110-zip code, Mission and Bernal Heights, tied for the third highest case concentration, about 38 per 10,000 residents.
The Richmond and Sunset Districts are generally experiencing less than 10 positive virus tests for every 10,000 residents. Nationally, the rate is 24 per 10,000.
Bayview-Hunters Point is one of San Francisco’s last communities with a significant Black population. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans are overrepresented among patients hospitalized for COVID-19. A study released last month based on data collected by six different entities, including the Bloomberg School of Public Health of Johns Hopkins University and the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University, found that counties with above-average Black populations accounted for nearly 60 percent of American novel coronavirus cases.
Several factors may account for higher coronavirus transmission rates in Southside neighborhoods. The area has many “essential” businesses and public service nodes that remain open during shelter-in-place, including repair shops, facilities to house the homeless, and hospitals and health care clinics. District 10’s virus hot spots include the Multi-Service Center South, the City’s largest homeless shelter, where more than 80 guests and 10 staff tested positive for COVID-19 in late April.
“Southside infection rates are a problem of our own making,” said J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president. “They reflect long-standing economic and…health disparities, diabetes rates, smoking rates, asthma, and other conditions caused by pollution. This is our sad reality becoming more visible.”
According to Edward Hatter, Potrero Hill Neighborhood House executive director, the shelter-in-place order placed a difficult burden on families living in small, overcrowded units in public housing complexes, including Potrero Annex-Terrace.
“People are confined in these undersized units, with no children able to go to school and most residents not able to go to work,” said Hatter. “On top of that, Bridge Housing demolished buildings with lead paint and asbestos right across the street while the shelter-in-place order was in effect. They were not supposed to do that during this time. It negatively affected the air quality. As a result, people have begun to go out and not pay attention to the SIP order. There needs to be more education in a friendly and respectful manner.”
“Some Latinos, particularly newcomers, might share a single apartment because they can’t afford housing with fewer people,” said Esperanza Macias, policy and communications director for Instituto Familiar de la Raza, a social services nonprofit in the Mission. “Overcrowding in low-income households is a necessity to afford rent in the City. Yet, if one person in a household does test positive, where can they go to isolate themselves when they have no other resources available to them?”
The Southside contains four of the City’s eight COVID-19 testing sites, at the Southeast Health Center and 1101 Fairfax, in Bayview, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFGH), in Potrero Hill, and CityTestSF in SoMa. DPH has set up field care clinics at the Maxine Hall Health Center, ZSFGH, and adjacent to the Southeast Health Center to offer primary and urgent care, reducing the number of patients directed to hospitals.
District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton appealed to the San Francisco Department of Public Health to set up additional field clinics in Districts 6, 9, and 10, test homeless individuals living in congregate settings like single-room occupancy hotels and shelters, and place people experiencing homelessness who are capable of caring for themselves into hotels. Walton noted that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed legislation to provide 8,250 hotel rooms, 7,000 for people experiencing homelessness and the remainder for first responders.
Roughly 1,200 rooms are under municipal contract, yet of the approximately 1,000 reserved for frontline workers only about 200 are being used. Close to 800 remain empty, costing the City thousands of dollars a day.
As of mid-May, 950 people who’d been living at shelters or on the street had been relocated into rooms in 19 hotels. The City is negotiating with 14 additional guesthouses. A shelter-in-place site recently opened at Pier 94, with 3.4 acres of Seawall Lot (SWL) 344 set aside to accommodate 29 recreational vehicles and 91 trailers. People over the age of 60 or with underlying health conditions have first priority.
Two “safe sleeping sites” have been created, near the Civic Center and MLK Park in Bayview, with tent encampments and wraparound services, including showers and food. Three more sites may open, at the former Transbay Terminal, Everett Middle School, and a former McDonald’s restaurant at Haight and Stanyan streets.
According to Gwendolyn Westbrook, chief executive officer of Mother Brown’s Dining Room United Council of Human Services, in Bayview, the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) recently provided more funding to the nonprofit, which is serving food to Southside residents. Bayview and Hill residents also donated roughly $20,000 for food, tents, sleeping bags, blankets, and masks.
“We are now feeding people who are staying in the trailers at Pier 94,” said Westbrook. “We are feeding triple the number of people we usually serve, providing meals to many children in particular. There is a lot of red tape and not enough housing. But the City has really stepped up and helped a great deal.”
Katherine Doumani, Dogpatch Neighborhood Association president, said housing people and providing personal protection equipment and hazard pay for frontline workers is critical.
“(They) are also major issues factoring into this pandemic heavily affecting folks in our District,” said Doumani. “We need bold, innovative action to house the unhoused now. Why has it been a month and there are still folks living on our streets?”
Jennifer Friedenbach, Coalition on Homelessness executive director, said the City should move “everyone out of congregate settings such as shelters and into hotel rooms.” She added that the situation could be improved through widespread distribution of tents and masks.
According to Hatter there’s a lack of resources for people of color on the Southside, particularly Black youth.
“I have seen and heard of groups of younger people congregating and entertaining up to 20 people at a time. When I talk to residents, I hear, “I didn’t think Black people could catch it.” The City and UCSF need to work together on outreach that directly contradicts these ideas,” said Hatter.
Hatter also said he’s seen individuals make extreme efforts to avoid people of Asian descent, “not only cross the street but pile up onto themselves. There’s no need to act like that.”
Michael Wong, program director of Community Youth Center (CYC) of San Francisco, in Bayview, said there’s been reports of sporadic bullying incidents targeting Asian Americans in public housing.
“For now, Asians choose to stay home to avoid being targets, as well as to protect themselves from the virus” said Wong. “CYC has been working very closely with a number of senior buildings in District 10 where Asians are a majority, such as All Hallows Senior Community, Geraldine Johnson Manor, Providence Senior Housing, and John King Senior Community. CYC works with their service coordinators to check the well-being of the seniors and send them regular updates.”
This month the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) launched what’ll likely be a four-day effort to test large numbers of asymptomatic Southside residents for the novel coronavirus. The endeavor is similar to the Unidos en Salud study conducted in the Mission in April. UCSF expects to assess Bayview, Sunnydale, and Visitacion Valley residents.
“Our job is to provide some answers and relief to communities that are disproportionately affected,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF.
According to Bibbins-Domingo, UCSF’s test-based study effort is being conducted independently from DPH, but its success depends on collaboration. The data UCSF collects will be shared with DPH to help reduce the spread of the virus.
“This virus affects all of us. We know that some of our communities are more likely to be more heavily affected and suffer more serious and more long-term consequences. Those of us who work at UCSF represent all of the different communities we are talking about,” said Bibbins-Domingo. “Everyone is at risk. As we go forward with multiple studies, including a contact tracing and follow-up support program involving healthcare workers, we need the help of DPH and the community. Getting the word out about testing requires knowledge and familiarity with the neighborhood. We’ll need help with communication and messaging in the Southeast sector of the City when we begin testing there.”