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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Racial Justice | Election 2020

San Diego’s Black And Latino Neighborhoods Hit With COVID-19 Triple Whammy

People board an MTS bus in National City, Aug. 8, 2020.

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: People board an MTS bus in National City, Aug. 8, 2020.

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Two recent reports show that predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in San Diego County not only have the highest COVID-19 infection rates and are hardest hit by unemployment, but also experience a significant gap in access to testing.

Aired: August 12, 2020 | Transcript

Two recent reports show that predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in San Diego County not only have the highest COVID-19 infection rates and are hardest hit by unemployment, but also experience a significant gap in access to testing.

The first report shows that among large metro areas nationwide, San Diego has one of the largest gaps in COVID-19 testing access for white and nonwhite neighborhoods. The report was done by ABC News, FiveThirtyEight and ABC-owned television stations using testing site location data obtained from the company Castlight Health.

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

It found, for example, that testing sites in majority-Black areas were estimated to be 28% busier than majority-white areas, said Laura Bonner, one of the journalists who analyzed the data.

A big reason for the disparity is there are more private testing sites in majority-white parts of San Diego County, the report found, which have less demand and shorter wait times. Meanwhile, most of the test sites in Black and Latino neighborhoods are run by the county, and can have five to seven day waiting periods for appointments, plus as much as 10 days to get results.

County officials say they are taking steps to close the gap.

Reported by Claire Trageser

They’ve already put most of the county-run testing sites in areas with more people of color, and are working to expand testing facilities in hotspot areas, a county spokesman said. Also, the county has opened a walk-in testing site in Southeast San Diego.

A second report, released last week by the regional planning agency SANDAG, found the zip codes with both the highest number of COVID-19 cases and the highest unemployment rates are in the South Bay, City Heights or Southeast San Diego, where more Black and Latino people live.

The five zip codes hit the worst by unemployment and COVID-19 are 91911 in Chula Vista, 91932 in Imperial Beach, 91950 in National City, and 92020 and 92021 in El Cajon.

RELATED: Look At San Diego County COVID-19 Deaths By ZIP Code Reveals Huge Disparity

Black and Latino populations are almost three times as likely to live in areas that have been impacted by COVID-19 and unemployment as white populations, the report found.

"That's the double whammy of this crisis right now," said Ray Major, the chief economist at SANDAG. "It's not just a health crisis, but there's an economic crisis on top of that. And there's a community that is disproportionately hit, and that is the minority community here in San Diego."

The data did not come as a surprise, but was still "heartbreaking" to Nancy Maldonado, the CEO of The Chicano Federation.

"It's a call to action to all of us to do better, and the things we've been saying in terms of disparity in the system that has harmed our communities for so long, that can no longer be disputed," Maldonado said. "It's there, it's in the data, it's in the numbers and I think collectively we all need to do better."

The county recently rolled out a program using community health workers known as "promotoras" who will reach out to people in the Latino community 24 hours after they get a call from a county contact tracer telling them they've been in close contact with someone infected with the virus. The point is to give people a person they can trust to talk to and get questions answered.

RELATED: Chicano Federation: County’s COVID-19 Outreach To Latinos Lacks Urgency

A coalition made up of community groups, including The Chicano Foundation, also recently were awarded a contract with the county to set up a community resource center where people can call or go in person to have questions answered and get help.

Maldonado said these are all steps in the right direction, but she wishes they had been done earlier.

"We need all hands on deck to get these infection rates down, we need all hands on deck to make sure we bring the death rate down, and we need all hands on deck to make sure that all communities have the resources and the referrals and the help they need right now," she said.

Even after the pandemic ends, the economic impacts are going to be long-lasting, Maldonado said, with businesses closing permanently and many jobs not coming back. She asked government officials to start planning now for those long-term impacts, with more financial assistance plans, job training and help for people who owe rent or other utility bills.

Major, the SANDAG chief economist, said the forecast shows the economic impacts could span six years.

"We need to find something else for people to do other than wait for their jobs to come back," he said.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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