Much has been learned in the 100 days since shelter-in-place orders settled across the state. In particular, that the highly contagious virus targets people living in crowded housing or who have been unable to stay home throughout the crisis because they work in jobs deemed essential, many of which pay relatively low wages. Most often, these are people of color.
By contrast, wealthier and safely housed people — typically white — have generally been able to work from home since mid-March.
The pandemic has not only exacerbated socioeconomic divides that have festered for decades, it has made the plight of the Bay Area’s low-income communities impossible to ignore as public health departments have shared the stunning data daily on their websites, and the press have written about the impact on communities of color.
What has become clear is that the virus affects low-income communities of color in different ways, with Latinos accounting for a significant number of infections and Asian American and black people dying disproportionately from the illness.
Here is a sampling of significant trends that have emerged in the past 100 days:
• African Americans: Black people are about 6% of California residents, yet account for for 9% of COVID-19 deaths (491 of 5,360).
• Latinos: Latinos disproportionately test positive for, and die of, the coronavirus in three Bay Area regions.
Alameda County: Latinos make up more than half of the county’s coronavirus cases (2,320 of the total 4,585) and 28% of deaths (33 of 118).
Santa Clara County: Latinos make up nearly 43% of cases (1,450 of 3,398) and 31.6% of deaths (48 of 152).
San Francisco County: Latinos make up just 15% of the county’s population, yet account for 50% of cases (1, 525 of 3,057).
Similar patterns exist in other Bay Area counties, where Latinos generally account for a higher number of cases.
• Asian Americans in San Francisco: Asian Americans are just over a third of city residents, yet account for nearly half of COVID-19 deaths (22 of 47). Asian Americans account for 12% of cases (370 of 3,057).
A UCSF testing initiative in the Mission District revealed Thursday that low-income Latinos who continued going to work throughout the spring accounted for a large number of the people previously infected with the virus. Results of antibody and nasal swab tests of nearly 4,000 residents revealed about 6% tested positive for antibodies in late April and early May, which means they’d been previously infected. Around 2% were actively infected when they were tested.
Mario Paz, executive director of the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center in San Francisco, said low-income Latinos have been in “crisis mode” for years.
“We weren’t surprised about the health data that came out because we know the majority of our low-income Latino families live in substandard housing. They live in crowded conditions. They don’t have places to isolate if they get sick,” said Paz, whose clients are largely low-income Latinos. “There should have been more attention paid to this.”
Socorro Diaz, who works as a housekeeper for several families in Sonoma County, said local and state officials should have done more to protect vulnerable, at-risk communities. Shelter-in-place orders have prevented Diaz from working since March. She said two of her employers recently let her go.
While many essential workers fell victim to the virus, people like Diaz lost their financial lifelines. California’s unemployment rate hit 16.3% in May, state officials reported Friday.
She and her husband, Felix Vasquez, are relying on meager savings to scrape by, but the couple is behind on their rent.
“This should not be happening,” said Diaz. “We didn’t expect any of this and it exploded like a bomb and everyone is wondering what to do. For being the United States, the most powerful country in the world, we’re not handling the pandemic the way we should.”