Newsletter: A portrait of coronavirus inequality in the Mission District

A mural in San Francisco's Mission District in May 2015.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, May 6, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

California’s slow march toward reopening will surely be accompanied by a slew of questions, as guidelines change and businesses struggle to adapt.

But as long as a novel coronavirus with no vaccine or widespread treatment rages on, there will be one overarching question that continues to shape the contours of pain across the state: Who can afford to stay home?

Whose workday can power on remotely through Zoom meetings and conference calls, and whose can’t? Who can slough off risk by outsourcing tasks and deliveries? And who remains on the other end of that equation at every point through the supply chain — from picking and packing to shelving and sorting, all the way down to the person setting down those bags of groceries outside someone else’s door?


We already know that Angelenos in poorer neighborhoods are seeing an outsize number of COVID-19 deaths, that younger blacks and Latinos are dying of COVID-19 at higher rates across California, and that the answers to the questions above will be disproportionately categorized along lines of race and class.

Early results from a study that aimed to offer voluntary coronavirus testing for all in a densely populated swath of San Francisco’s Mission District suggest that those who cannot easily shelter in place are at the greatest risk of infection.

Historically working-class and Latino, the broader Mission District has been remade by propulsive waves of gentrification in recent decades. First artists, then yuppies and tech workers arrived, leaving a tide of displacement in their wake. Amid tech bus protests and stark inequality, the neighborhood became a ground zero of sorts for San Francisco’s gentrification wars in the pre-pandemic city.

As of late last month, the San Francisco ZIP Code that includes the Mission District also had the highest number of coronavirus cases of any in the city.

Working in collaboration with community groups and officials, UC San Francisco infectious disease researchers tested nearly 3,000 people who live or work in a specific census tract within the Mission for active COVID-19 infections. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that researchers chose to focus their study on the Mission because of its high population density and large Latino population. Latinos account for a disproportionate number of positive coronavirus cases in San Francisco.

The results showed a shared thread running through the lives of nearly everyone who had contracted the virus — 90% of individuals in the study who tested positive for COVID-19 reported being unable to work from home. The vast majority of them had also been financially shaken in recent weeks — 83% of those who tested positive reported having been financially affected by economic fallout of the pandemic.

In a staggering contrast, more than half of individuals who tested negative in the study reported that the pandemic had had no effect on their work or financial stability.

“What’s most striking (is) the relative risk based on the people that had to work and the people that could stay home,” San Francisco’s Deputy Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip told the Chronicle.

[See also: “Coronavirus testing in SF’s Mission District reveals spike among workers” in the San Francisco Chronicle]

Many Mission residents and workers, according to the UCSF brief, are employed in essential services, including agriculture, construction, manufacturing, the restaurant and grocery industries, janitorial and domestic services. Those who work in the Mission but live outside the study area also tested positive at a much higher rate (6.1%) than residents (1.4%).

The racial disparities seen in coronavirus cases across San Francisco were amplified in the Mission. Of those who tested positive in the study, 95% were Latino — despite Latinos making up just 44% of total participants. Nearly 38% of those tested were white, but whites accounted for 0% of the positive test results.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Gov. Gavin Newsom has criticized two rural Northern California counties that are allowing businesses and restaurants to reopen, saying their decision to defy his statewide stay-at-home order has put their communities at increased risk for a new coronavirus outbreak. Sutter and Yuba counties, both north of Sacramento, allowed businesses to reopen on Monday after a similar decision was made in Modoc County in California’s northeastern corner. Officials in the three counties argued that they were less affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than hot spots such as Los Angeles and the Bay Area and said the shutdown was hurting their local economies. Los Angeles Times

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said he did not expect L.A. retail businesses to be able to offer curbside delivery on Friday in step with Newsom’s outline. L.A.'s Safer at Home order is in effect until May 15 and Garcetti said that he hoped steps restricting commerce could begin to be rolled back by then. “Our timing on opening may vary from other parts of the state,” he said. “I will reopen our city with careful consideration, guided by public health professionals.” Los Angeles Times


In Hollywood’s virtual writers rooms, TV scribes are wrestling with how — and when — to work COVID-19 into their series. “Do you say, ‘I’m going to guess that things are going to get back to normal by, like, November, so around episode 5 we’re going to do away with the face marks?’” The Hollywood Reporter

Why TikTok is planting roots in L.A. even amid a pandemic: The China-based social video app, has seen explosive growth this year amid the coronavirus crisis. The company has plans to hire more people, including at its Culver City office. Los Angeles Times

Adam Waheed records a video for TikTok with Galang "Stro" To at his studio in April in Los Angeles. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, content creators like Waheed have continued to find success through apps like TikTok.
Adam Waheed records a video for TikTok with Galang “Stro” To at his studio in April in Los Angeles. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, content creators like Waheed have continued to find success through apps like TikTok.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Will West Hollywood’s storied Troubadour nightclub survive the pandemic? That’s a “big if,” according to the venue’s general manager. Los Angeles Times

Footage of an LAPD officer repeatedly punching a man during an arrest in Boyle Heights in late April has stoked outrage and prompted the launch of an internal review of the incident. Los Angeles Times

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An ousted scientist says top Trump administration health officials repeatedly ignored warnings in January and February about the need for masks and other protective equipment to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak. The senior scientist, who was ousted from his post last month, detailed his claims in a whistleblower complaint filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. Los Angeles Times

Attorneys for Newsom’s administration refused Monday to reveal the contents of a $990-million contract for purchasing protective masks from a Chinese electric car manufacturer, even though millions of the masks have already arrived in California to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Los Angeles Times


A Newport Beach city councilman has personally sued Newsom over beach closures targeting Orange County. Los Angeles Times


The coronavirus could worsen the death toll of summer heat waves: Long and intense heat waves are nothing new in Southern California and the Southwest, but amid COVID-19, public health experts are warning they could become deadlier for people self-isolating in homes they can’t keep cool. Los Angeles Times

Antibody tests aren’t always reliable or available. But businesses are still racing to use them. Los Angeles Times


Beaches, parks and trails in Southern California — what’s open and closed this week: Almost every day, the rules change. Here’s the latest. Los Angeles Times

After coronavirus and 100,000 furloughs, where does Disney go from here? The pandemic has effectively grounded much of the Burbank entertainment colossus, which until recently was riding high on its dominant box office performance, packed themed parks and a fast-growing new streaming service. Los Angeles Times


Missing Major League Baseball? Here’s Korean baseball to the rescue — minus fans and high fives. Los Angeles Times

Thirteen delicious Mother’s Day gift ideas available for pickup or delivery in the Bay Area, from pastries at the newly reopened Oakland favorite La Farine to a cake-and-bouquet combo. Berkeleyside

This is just a drone video of a Placer County rancher moving a herd of sheep to a new field for grazing. And yet it remains oddly mesmerizing. (Make sure your sound is on, the inspirational music in the background really takes it up a notch.) Sacramento Bee

A poem to start your Wednesday: “Oceans” by Juan Ramón Jiménez, translated from the Spanish by Robert Bly. Mountain Record

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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 91. San Diego: partly sunny, 82. San Francisco: partly sunny, 71. San Jose: windy, 82. Fresno: partly sunny, 87. Sacramento: sunny, 87. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Marianne Melleka Boules:

Culver City had a different feel in the ‘90s. My immigrant parents rented a guest house behind a retired actress named Winnie, just steps away from the Culver City Hotel. My brothers and I shared a bedroom, so we spent most of our time in Winnie’s backyard and exploring the L.A. River. I will never forget the time we found an actual crab in the bushes, and my mother’s shocked face when we took it inside. My parents eventually saved enough for a home in the Valley, but exploring the wilds of Culver City are some of my fondest memories.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.