People of color make up majority of coronavirus deaths in San Francisco

Data released to date still leaves much unknown

San Francisco’s limited demographic data on coronavirus cases already points to disproportionate impacts on people of color, but advocates warn that more precise data is needed for a targeted response.

The City is slowly releasing more refined data points for the public to see, with death demographics added this week. Of 21 people who died from coronavirus to date, 11 were categorized as Asian, three as white, three as black, one Latino, and the other three are not known or identified.

Data published thus far shows Latino people make up 24 percent of all confirmed cases, white people account for 18 percent, Asians comprise 13 percent, black people make up five percent, and another seven percent are marked as “other.” Census data estimates San Francisco’s 2019 population is 15 percent Latino, 40 percent white, 36 percent Asian, and 6 percent black.

“The [demographic] data are important for both understanding how different communities are being affected by the virus and also how to shape and target response effort,” said Samantha Artiga, who is analyzing nationwide data as director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Disparities Policy Project. “Prior to COVID-19, many people in communities of color were already facing disparities in both health status and in health care access.”

However, the 30 percent of cases with unknown race or ethnicity has hardly budged since the City unveiled its data tracker earlier this month. Though laboratories aren’t required to send that data, health care providers are. Still, they might not have the information or may not submit a confidential morbidity report, said the Department of Emergency Management.

The dashboard has been a great starting point, said Dr. Marlene Martín, director of Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital’s addiction care team and assistant clinical professor at University of California San Francisco. But health providers and city officials will be better able to target its coronavirus response by looking at demographics of hospitalizations.

San Francisco Department of Public Health has started to release the demographics of those who have died so far in the coronavirus pandemic.                                Courtesy SFDPH

San Francisco Department of Public Health has started to release the demographics of those who have died so far in the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy SFDPH

Anecdotally, Martín observed that about three-quarters of patients at the City hospital have been Latino. Martín bets that rates would match what she sees in the field with hospitalization demographics — particularly safety-net hospitals — and widespread testing.

“The inequalities rise to the top,” Martín said. “COVID removes that tiny bit of safety net or resources that you have. It’s been heartwrenching to see this happen to patients, to see it happening to a patient who could be my own family member.”

Cases by zip code released Monday also helped fill in some gaps. The Mission, which has a concentration of Latinos, has the highest amount of cases while Bayview-Hunters Point, which has a large black population, has one of the highest rates of infection per population.

The three black people making up coronavirus deaths resided in District 10, which includes Bayview and Visitacion Valley, Supervisor Shamann Walton said Wednesday. He requested that the Department of Public Health host pop-up testing sites that include asymptomatic and homeless people, field care clinics, distributing protective gear, more outreach resources, and to put homeless folks in hotels.

Community testing is underway for the Mission. From April 25 through April 28, the Latino Task Force for COVID-19 will conduct mass testing for coronavirus cases as well as antibodies that can prove immunity for a specific census tract. Pre-registration began earlier this week while volunteers began visiting households on Wednesday.

Results will help tell just how many cases are concentrated among Latino people to help push for the right resources, from care for those who test positive to language services to keep everyone informed.

“The demographic information is important because then we can turn around and justify that we are being disproportionately hit,” said Jon Jacobo, director of community engagement and public policy at TODCO, who sits on the task force. “What we’re doing here, the country will have to do for us to get back to normal.”

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