Low-wage workers who are unable to work from home during shelter in place are at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus, according to preliminary results released Monday by UCSF, which conducted thousands of diagnostic tests in San Francisco’s Mission District neighborhood in April.
The findings hint at a grim reality: As local economies begin to reopen and more people go back to work, they may be at higher risk of falling ill. The evidence indicates that low-wage workers who haven’t had the option of working from home have been at particular risk.
Of the 2,959 people tested in a four-square-block area of the Mission, 62, or 2%, tested positive for the coronavirus, the researchers said. That is much higher than the city’s overall positive rate of 0.18%.
Researchers divided up participants into two groups, residents and workers. About 1.4% of residents tested positive and 6.1% of workers tested positive. Most of the workers who were tested work in food and beverage jobs or trade industries such as construction.
“What’s most striking (is) the relative risk based on the people that had to work and the people that could stay home,” said San Francisco’s Deputy Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip.
Notable was that those who tested positive had much in common: The vast majority, 90%, could not work from home. And 75% were men, even though men accounted for just 55% of study participants. Nearly 89% earned less than $50,000 a year, and most lived in households of three to five people. Almost everyone who tested positive, 95%, was Latino, even though Latinos represented only 44% of study participants.
Those tested lived or worked in a single census tract — from 23rd Street and South Van Ness Avenue to Cesar Chavez and Harrison streets. They were tested between April 25 and 28.
Of the 62 people who tested positive, more than half, 53%, showed no symptoms — highlighting the risk of pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic people spreading the virus.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen said she will introduce legislation to ensure residents who are not eligible for unemployment because of their immigration status or other reasons can access replacement income.
“If a large number aren’t eligible for state unemployment, they’re not getting the $1,200 checks in mail from the federal government; there is no way of keeping food on the plates of their families if they don’t take that risk and go to work,” she said.
Researchers administered diagnostic tests, which detect whether someone currently is infected with the coronavirus, and antibody tests, which detect whether someone has been infected in the past.
The findings released Monday are for the diagnostic testing only. Results of the antibody tests are expected to be released in late May.
Researchers focused on the Mission because of its high population density and large Latino population. The ZIP code that includes the Mission District has the most coronavirus cases in the city, with 214 cases, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Latino residents make up about 15% of San Francisco’s total population but account for 37% of the city’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to city health data.
The findings highlight economic and racial disparities exacerbated by the coronavirus. But rates of coronavirus among workers is of broader concern as policymakers debate whether reopening businesses to ease the economic toll is worth the potential health risks.
The number of daily U.S. coronavirus deaths is projected to nearly double from 1,750 to 3,000 by June 1, as states begin reopening, the New York Times reported Monday, citing an internal document compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And the number of daily new cases is projected to spike from 25,000 to 200,000 by the end of June, according to the FEMA projections.
Several states, including Maine, Texas, Georgia, Florida and Colorado, have started reopening restaurants, stores, hair salons and other public spaces. California will enter the next phase of its multi-stage reopening process as soon as Friday, when some retailers will be allowed to have their customers do curbside pickup for their items, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.
Newsom acknowledged that as the state gradually moves to reopen, the spread of the virus may pick up, and restrictions may have to be reintroduced.