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COVID-19 Disparities in Marin County

July 30, 2020

By CARL NAGIN

With more than 50,000 people testing positive for COVID-19 in the Bay Area, 2,649 of these cases have occurred in Marin County and over half of them in the densely populated Canal neighborhood. The Canal’s 20% positivity rate is triple that of the rest of Marin, according to County Public Health officer Dr. Matt Willis.

In a recent ABC news report focused on the pandemic’s surge in the Canal, Willis called the virus “a truth teller,” revealing long-standing systemic inequities for Marin’s underserved Latino population, many of whom are on the frontlines of the crisis as essential workers in food service, construction, home care, and health for children and seniors.

Latinos comprise 16% of the county’s population, but they account for roughly 80% of Marin’s cases, the largest disparity of any Bay Area county, according to a recent ABC news report.

The pandemic has unleashed a perfect storm, says Canal Alliance CEO Omar Carrera in which chronic, over-crowded housing and the lack of living wage jobs are disproportionally impacting the health of the Canal and the entire county.

People line up for COVID-19 testing at Canal Alliance

“What the pandemic has shown us,” Carrera told ABC news “is that if one person in the community is not safe, nobody is going to be safe. The Canal’s problems are Marin County’s problems.”

Public health researchers, the CDC, and international bodies like the World Health Organization have long recognized that housing and jobs are social drivers of individual and community health. The Canal neighborhood offers an emblematic example. Marin’s lack of affordable housing forces many families of essential workers to share rental spaces. Self-quarantine may be manageable for homeowners and single renters, but it is impossible for multiple families sharing rental of a two-bedroom apartment.

Currently the County has only one hotel in Novato available for COVID-19 positive individuals to quarantine, even though half the reported cases are in the Canal, a neighborhood nestled in one of the nation’s wealthiest counties.

“The housing conditions,” Carrera told ABC News, “in addition to being an essential worker are the perfect combination to make the problem worse, to make this a nightmare for everyone. We can keep testing people, but if we don’t have a good isolation and contract tracing strategy, none of that will matter.”

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