COVID inequality could become key reopening metric

California currently uses case numbers and test positivity rates to measure whether a county moves up or down the state’s COVID-19 risk tiers.

But there is a third metric that the California Department of Public Health is considering: the disparity in cases between low income neighborhoods and wealthier ones. The equity metric would put greater emphasis on addressing neighborhoods that are hit hard by the pandemic.

In Oakland, the 94611 zip code encompassing the Oakland Hills has about 500 cases per every 100,000 residents. But travel less than seven miles to the 94601 zip code, and the case count shoots up to 4,000 per every 100,000 people.

“It’s one number difference in the zip code but it’s eight times as many COVID-19 cases," said Erik Solorio, head RN at La Clinica de la Raza in the Fruitvale district, which has a large Latino population and a positivity rate is 15-20%.

The state average is around 3%, the lowest in many months.

"It’s not somebody that’s working from home that’s getting COVID-19, it’s somebody that’s having to go into people’s homes, is having to work at restaurants, is having to work at a grocery store. It’s those that work in construction or are day laborers,” said Solorio. “Those are our patients, those are our community members that are getting COVID-19."

Solorio says the high rate of infection in these hot zones demonstrates the flaws in the pandemic response.

“A system in which requires certain folks to be exposed to the virus for lives to continue as normal, or as close to normal as possible. And when we hire those services we have a responsibility to them as well, they’re providing a service for us."

The clinic is hosting a massive testing blitz at the Fruitvale BART station this weekend and hopes to reach about 4,000 people to gather more information on the pandemic disparity.

Chris Iglesias is with the non-profit community health group the Unity Council and said he hopes the data collected from the testing push will direct more help to vulnerable communities.

“To really get the economy going, these essential workers need to be safe."