In a bid to inject more perspective into San Francisco’s ongoing struggle with the novel coronavirus, the SF Department of Public Health and the mayor’s office released an online mapping tool diagramming COVID-19 cases by neighborhood.
The map tool breaks down the city by ZIP code and finds that the bulk of detected cases thus far are concentrated on SF’s southeastern quadrant, with neighborhoods like SoMa and Potrero Hill standing out.
However, the data also reveals that the realities of a public health crisis are a bit more complicated than they appear on the surface:
- The good news is that, in general, there aren’t that many cases of COVID-19 in San Francisco. As of Monday, the SF Department of Public Health recorded just over 1,200 cases citywide, a rate of fewer than 15 cases per 10,000 people. In all, the city has recorded 20 novel corona virus-related deaths. For comparison, Santa Clara County has 1,922 cases and 83 deaths, while New York City reports over 132,400 cases with more than 9,100 fatalities.
- In terms of sheer numbers, the 94110 area—which includes the Mission and Bernal Heights—has the most cases with 166, while 94158 and 94105—Mission Bay and the East Cut, respectively—have the fewest, at just 14 confirmed diagnoses each.
- In per capita terms, the highest concentration is in the 94103 area (mostly SoMa), with more than 29 cases per 10,000 people, while 94127—which includes wealthy neighborhoods like St. Francis Wood as well as working-class areas like Balboa Terrace—has the least, with just over nine per 10,000.
- Note that the response to the outbreak skews these numbers a bit. A big reason why there are so many cases in SoMa is because of the MSC South homeless shelter on Fifth Street, which is not only the site of a COVID-19 outbreak but now serves as an ad hoc medical facility for sick homeless residents. Furthermore, it’s still difficult for many people to get tested for novel coronavirus, making it challenging to parse whether or not higher numbers represent more cases, more tests, or both.
- Despite potential ambiguities, Mayor London Breed points to the data as evidence that the outbreak is disproportionately affecting some populations. “The map shows that the populations and locations in the City that are most affected by health disparities, income inequality, and structural racism are also the most affected by the pandemic to date,” the mayor said in a Monday email.
Breed’s administration are not the only ones who attempted to visualize the outbreak. In March, UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute attempted to map which neighborhoods are potentially the most vulnerable to the outbreak with a number of variables indicating social vulnerability.
For example, the institute’;s mapping project singles out tracts where more students rely on reduced price school lunches to discern where the city concentrates more low-income households—and sure enough, the spread does bear some resemblance to the city’s map of confirmed diagnoses.
Multiple factors might potentially make low-income areas more vulnerable during an outbreak. Data software company Urban Footprint notes that roughly 75 percent of Bay Area residents live within a 15-minute walk of the nearest grocery store, but those who don’t will probably have to travel further and more often for supplies. These people may end up concentrated in the nearest locales—all behaviors that expose them to more risk.
Other predictors don’t quite turn out as planned. UC Berkeley researchers also broke down which neighborhoods house the greatest number of people without personal vehicles.
While in many cities this is an indicator of socio-economic status—and thus also vulnerability—in SF’s case the resulting map just shows where public transit is most densely concentrated, with households in the north and eastern flanks of the city the most likely to go without a car.
It’s important to remember that a contagious agent does not isolate itself only to certain areas. Every person in every neighborhood is potentially in danger from the citywide outbreak and should follow public health protocols to the best of their ability.