As COVID-19 cases rise, concerns about vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations, including Latino families on the Coastside, remain.
Most of the 111 deaths in the county were older, white residents. The largest slice of cases, at nearly 2,000 of the almost 4,000 in San Mateo County, have been in the Latino community. Latinos comprise only about a quarter of the county’s population.
On the Coastside, the county has reported fewer than 100 cases, 66 of which are in Half Moon Bay. County health officials declined to provide any additional testing results specific to the Coastside, such as a local positivity rate or case demographics.
Ayudando Latinos a Soñar founder Belinda Arriaga said she’s not surprised that Latinos in the county, many of whom work on local farms, are testing positive at a disproportionately high rate. She said frontline workers on local farms are more likely to be exposed to the virus and to bring it back home, where many people live in high-density housing and social distancing isn’t possible.
Arriaga said in addition to helping organize testing sites that target vulnerable populations, ALAS is also working with the county to expand educational efforts. She said county officials understand the unique barriers many Coastsiders face.
“There needs to be a lot more educational material given to our community,” Arriaga said.
In a report to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Deputy County Manager Justin Mates said the county is accelerating its efforts to address inequities in testing and target hard- to-reach populations, including educational efforts encouraging residents to welcome testing and contact tracing. Mates said that rotating Verily’s Project Baseline test site across the county and Coastside has helped lower geographic barriers and said the county is now averaging around 500 tests per day.
Mates said the county is working to get out the word that for those with insurance, getting a test through their primary care provider should be the first option. He also said the county is working on multilingual messaging about the importance of masks, and that talking about protecting families and loved ones is a key part of helping residents understand they should get tested.
“The impact of COVID-19 on our vulnerable populations, and on those that may not be able to quarantine, is a systemic issue,” Mates said.
Arriaga said the help ALAS provides to local families has only ramped up as the pandemic has worn on. She said that ALAS has distributed more than 7,000 masks and residents are asking for more each week. Arriaga sees that as a sign they’re being used and that residents feel they need additional protection. And ALAS’s Saturday pop-up food pantry has also seen an increased volume, with more than 150 families stopping by weekly for food. That’s in addition to the 400 food bags ALAS liaison Joaquin Jimenez delivers to working families on Thursdays and the several hundred calls her office gets over the weekend for additional deliveries.
Arriaga said she checks in with each family that comes to get food on the weekend. Many people tell her they still aren’t working full time and are struggling to put food on the table. She said the effects of the pandemic on the most vulnerable Coastside families seems only to be escalating as work runs dry and fears of the virus continue.
“This is for the long term,” Arriaga said. “There’s not a solution right now in sight. We’re really worried about what this means for our community.”