Services remain elusive for many Latinos who contract COVID-19

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When Nereyda’s 12-year-old daughter came home from school in early December feeling sick, the mother of two was worried.

“She had a fever of 100.4. Her head hurt a lot, and her eyes,” she told the San Francisco Examiner through a translator earlier this month, requesting that we withhold her name over fear of stigma.“We weren’t sure where the symptoms were coming from, if it was a cold. We decided to take her to take a test for COVID.”

Her daughter tested positive. Immediately after receiving the diagnosis, Nereyda started trying to get her family of four out of their shared home.

“I live in a small apartment, and there are two other people living there. It was very close surroundings,” she said. “I was afraid the other tenants were going to be exposed to COVID. They didn’t test positive, but I was taking precautions to make sure she didn’t infect other people.”

But getting access to one of The City’s quarantine hotels, particularly if you’re not a native English speaker, is no small feat. Despite the fact that people identifying as Hispanic or Latino make up 44 percent of all positive COVID-19 cases in San Francisco and 24 percent of The City’s fatalities, advocates say there remains a shortage of understandable, low-barrier resources for that population.

“We’re hearing from people that it’s a complicated process,” says Karl Kramer, an organizer with the Alliance for Social and Economic Justice, which is based in the Mission. “People get a COVID test, and then they get a follow up call from a contact tracer who will then ask them if they need something. They wouldn’t understand exactly what they were offered, and would say no. And actually what they were being offered was city Right to Recover funds.”

After her 12-year-old’s diagnosis, Nereyda turned to her daughter’s school for help finding a hotel room, but even they struggled to navigate the system. Nereyda’s daughter tested positive on a Monday, and they weren’t able to get a hotel room until Friday.

It was just in time. By that point, Nereyda and her 1-year-old daughter were showing symptoms. But it was her husband who was hit the hardest. He developed an infection in his lungs, and ended up in the hospital. When we talked to Nereyda, he had been discharged back to the hotel, but was recovering in a separate room. Nereyda and her two daughters were alone, unable to leave their room or be with him.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in her family has left Neyveda stressed. A janitor, she was worried about telling her boss that she’d contracted the virus, in case it affected her job in some way. And her husband, a plumber, may take a while to recover.

“When I talk to my husband he sounds really weak,” she said. “He’s unable to talk. It really hit hard, I don’t know if he’s going to be OK after this, or if he’ll be able to sustain going back to work.”

Community groups are moving rapidly to fill holes in resources as they pop up. Jon Jacobo, the health committee chair for the Latino Task Force, which runs COVID-19 testing sites and a resource hub in the Mission, says that while The City is taking some positive steps — such as the new holiday testing pop-up in the neighborhood — to help people get diagnoses, often people who test positive are left to fend for themselves.

“There’s obviously programs The City has set up that are intended to do really great work,” he said. “But what I hear often, and what I see often, is things don’t pan out. People are promised food, cleaning supplies, or Right to Recover funds, and they never get a follow up. There are clearly issues on the back end that need to be triple checked to ensure all systems are working correctly.”

On Tuesday, a link on the Department of Public Health’s website directing people to information about free quarantine services was broken.

In the meantime, the Latino Task Force has been an accessible resource for non-English speaking Mission residents who need support — including securing hotel rooms.

“At first it was sticky, but we have a direct line now,” Jacobo says of the process. “This past weekend someone called me and we got them in a hotel room within 24 hours. I just don’t know if that’s happening at scale.”

Nereyda and her family are back home after quarantining, but the impact of the virus has been more than just physical. The experience scared her, and she’s nervous about going to work and leaving the house to buy groceries in case she is somehow still contagious.

Having suffered through the virus with her family, she is troubled by people who don’t view it as a threat. “I want to share that I really feel that people should take the precautions seriously, and take care of themselves,” she said.

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