The coronavirus public

by Henry Farrell on May 28, 2020

From a new article in Stat.

In a four-day blitz at the end of April, they swabbed and drew blood from 4,160 adults and children, including more than half of the residents in the 16 square blocks that make up San Francisco Census Tract 229.01. In the heart of the Mission District, it is one of the city’s most densely populated and heavily Latinx neighborhoods. While Havlir expected to see the Latinx community hit hard by the virus, the actual numbers came as a shock. About 2% of people tested positive for the coronavirus. Nearly all of them — 95% — were Latinx. The other 5% were Asian or Pacific Islander. Not a single white person tested positive, though 34% of the tract’s residents are white, according to the U.S. Census; 58% are Hispanic.

… One of Havlir’s motivations for the testing was to understand how the virus was being transmitted even after the city had been locked down for six weeks. Questionnaires administered with the tests gave her an answer: 90% of those who tested positive could not work from home. Most were low-income, and most lived in households with three or more people.

“What really comes out of these data is that low-wage essential workers are victims of this disease,” Havlir said. Many of those infected were working in food service, making deliveries, or cleaning offices despite shutdown orders. “These people were out working the entire time,” she said.

“Anecdotally, we knew this, but the hard data is heartbreaking,” said Susana Rojas, executive director of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District and a leader of the Latino Task Force for Covid-19 that partnered with UCSF to run the study. “Our community was out working, keeping the city moving and fed. Of course they were more exposed and getting sick.”



Maria 05.28.20 at 2:56 pm

Crossing the road today in south London, zone 2, I properly noticed something I’ve been registering subliminally for weeks; most of the people travelling on buses (only meant to be for essential journeys to and from work) were people of colour. So are most bus-drivers, and a far greater proportion of London’s bus drivers have died of covid-19 than have health-workers. So much for all in this together.


Trader Joe 05.28.20 at 3:53 pm

This has been a “haves vs. have nots” virus from the very beginning and the findings that “90% of those who tested positive could not work from home. ” Generalize across many countries.

In the US of course, this finding comes with an additional dose of racial overtone because there is no coincidence at all that folks of color are also the ones more likely to not have a job that translates into WFH. The driver remains the ability to stay home however, not race and solving the virus won’t fix the economic differences, indeed it will more likely exacerbate them.


bianca steele 05.28.20 at 4:52 pm

Placing the burden on families to administer quarantine to one another within a household also contributed to this, as did the attitude of “you don’t have it until an official test comes back and we don’t think you meet the criteria to get a test” (which itself is closely related to “you/I don’t seem so sick you can’t still work”). Reducing the recommendation to a term borrowed from active-shooter situations and an absolute, over-simplified mandate that not everybody can follow was bound to lead to this kind of result. “Tragic” and “heartbreaking” are rather less than a commitment to take any kind of action. “People who can afford a decent lifestyle and wash their hands sufficiently will be okay,” may be a good description of the situation, but is hardly a public health policy.

Ironically San Francisco touts itself as the biggest success story in terms of preventing a bigger outbreak.


Raven Onthill 05.28.20 at 7:10 pm

Quite literal class warfare.


Collin Street 05.28.20 at 10:41 pm

One of the things I realised is that with aged care in particular, there’s a situation where people are working full-time hours and workplaces have multiple fte positions, but casualisation means that the jobs and the people are all mixed together and cross-contaminate.

I mean, a medical worker is also a piece of medical equipment: they should be shared as little as possible specifically to avoid what happened. I spotted this post-facto, but I’m a tradesman in a manufacturing industry, the actual subject-matter experts should have spotted it in advance and the bureaucrats should have acted to avoid it.

(No adding additional staff members to payroll if a suitable current worker wants additional hours, sort of thing)


Anthony 05.30.20 at 1:57 am

“You’re not so sick you can’t come to work” is echoed by the medical staff themselves, because their work is critical. New York Times (5 April 2020): There’s an informal motto that says a doctor should either “round or be rounded on.” You are well enough to work until you are sick enough to be in the hospital as a patient.


belowthelino 05.30.20 at 5:22 am

@5 “bureaucrats should have acted to avoid it”

A number of jurisdictions did just that, here in British Columbia care home workers are only allowed to work at one facility, the government pays the worker for lost earnings. It’s a cheap intervention which has saved many lives.


notGoodenough 05.30.20 at 1:24 pm

“A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.“

It would be nice to think that this will cause a re-evaluation about the value added to our societies by those most at risk. It would be nice to think that perhaps this will generate some actual outrage and real changes. It would be nice to think that this will help us move towards a more equal world.

Generally speaking I am an optimist, but in this case I won’t hold my breath.

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