Community leaders rally to keep COVID test sites open in SF's most vulnerable areas

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Tuesday, June 14, 2022
Push to keep COVID test sites open in SF's vulnerable areas
Community leaders urged the Mayor Breed to reassess her budget proposal that would cut five COVID test sites in SF's most vulnerable neighborhoods.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- On the steps of City Hall, community leaders urged the Mayor of San Francisco to reassess her budget proposal that would cut five COVID test sites in some of the most vulnerable neighborhoods.

"Please keep the Mission open, keep Excelsior open, keep the Bayview open," said Ivan Corado-Vega, manager for the Latino Task Force.

The upcoming budget would cut $9.5 million dollars in COVID funds. The Latino Task Force wants the Mayor to consider health equity in the upcoming budget.

"Just two years ago we had long discussions with city leaders about racial justice, divestment from failed systems and the promise of equitable investment particularly in communities of color."

Susana Rojas with the Latino Task Force, the group facing closures, said essential workers will be the most impacted.

RELATED: Amid COVID surge, San Francisco cuts community test site budget in vulnerable neighborhoods

"It is hurtful and it is disappointing," said Rojas and added, "If all our essential workers get sick what is going to happen to our businesses. What is going to happen to any of the industries that we have in the city."

The office of the Mayor said Mayor Breed is prioritizing economic recovery and said the city is facing a decline in federal funding.

"SF Health Network's health centers in neighborhoods will continue to provide COVID resources to their patients, and the uninsured, and offer primary care for other essential health needs. SFDPH will also continue to stand up mobile and "pop-up" sites for vulnerable people."

If the budget doesn't change the Mission test site is set to close by the end of the year.

The first site by the Latino Task Force that will close its doors will be the Bayview at the end of this month.

RELATED: California's Latino community is being hit the hardest by COVID-19, data shows

"I think it's not fair," said Maria Jasso, San Francisco Resident and added, "A lot of people they work in restaurants and they come here because it's free and its good for them."

The Mission site sees over 300 people on a regular basis.

"I always see people standing outside... San Francisco was always see as very progressive in terms of COVID and the access for Latino communities so to hear that they are rolling back potentially is really sad," said Francisca Gilmore, San Francisco resident.

For now the Latino Task Force is holding on to hope.

"We are hoping that we can negotiate and that we can get the budget back in order to continue to have them open," said Rojas.

RELATED: Doctors explain why SF has highest COVID positivity rate in CA

Mayor Breed's office released the following statement:

"It's important to note that San Francisco will continue to invest in COVID-19 response and provide low-barrier access points in priority communities for vaccinations and testing. While CBO-contracted funding for outreach efforts will discontinue in the proposed upcoming FY22-23 budget, there will be carry over funding from the previous fiscal year to continue community-based services as part of our COVID response. DPH estimates that approximately $6 million total remains and can be spent down in the coming months in the new fiscal year. DPH is working on a process to allocate funds.

Since the pandemic began, the majority of our COVID task force functions were supported by temporary, one-time funding from the state and federal government, including Provider Relief Funds, COVID Relief Funds, and FEMA reimbursements. Last year's budget included significant funding to support our diverse communities as part of our COVID response, providing critical care like community vaccination and testing, small business and workforce supports, much of which was funded by federal COVID support that no longer exists.

While COVID-19 will remain with us for the foreseeable future, we are now better positioned to live with the virus in ways that it does not have to upend our lives. Vaccines and treatments aimed at preventing severe illness in people at higher risk and testing are widely available. Throughout our COVID-19 emergency response, the City has prioritized communities most adversely impacted by the virus by investing in resources tailored to serve their immediate needs. In partnership with community-based organizations, we have strategically placed low-barrier vaccine and testing access points in our most impacted neighborhoods; these efforts have resulted in a higher proportion of SFDPH-administered vaccinations going to people of color and vaccination rates that are higher than state and national averages. Outreach, education, and trust-building continue to be important strategies to reaching our highly impacted communities.

The Mayor's proposed budget allocates $57.3 million of direct COVID-19 public health response work for SFDPH in the coming fiscal year (FY 2022-23) and $25 million in the following fiscal year (FY 2023-24.) Previous funding from the fiscal year we are in now that ends at the end of this month (FY2021-22) was $172 million, most of this total will be reimbursed by FEMA but this reimbursement will not be available moving forward. Additionally, the proposed budget allocates $3 million to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) that will continue community-based organizational support and referral services targeted to low-income and vulnerable communities as part of our economic recovery through COVID-19 Resource Hubs for six additional months.

SF Health Network's health centers in neighborhoods will continue to provide COVID resources to their patients, and the uninsured, and offer primary care for other essential health needs. SFDPH will also continue to stand up mobile and "pop-up" sites for vulnerable people, such as people experiencing homelessness, people who are homebound, and others. More than two years into the pandemic, San Francisco has developed a robust health care system that can address people's COVID-related health care needs. We now have vaccine, testing, COVID-19 medicines, and other medical services available through all health systems, community clinics, and in a majority of pharmacies.

As we shift from COVID response to recovery and federal COVID funding dramatically decreases, the City is prioritizing our general fund dollars on critical citywide recovery needs that benefit all communities, including meeting public safety priorities, supporting economic recovery so our small businesses can survive, paying city and non-profit workers significant wage increases, and continuing to address homelessness and public safety. "