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Four Bay Area Counties Fail to Meet COVID-19 Equity Metric

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A residential hillside in the San Francisco Bay Area on a sunny day.

Four Bay Area counties have failed to meet California's new COVID-19 health equity requirements. They won’t be able to reopen any further until they do.

Poor communities of color in Contra Costa, San Mateo, Sonoma and San Francisco are experiencing much higher rates of COVID-19 than other communities within those counties. On Tuesday, the State Department of Health and Human Services released a new requirement for reopening to address that. 


It’s called the Health Equity Metric and its goal is to make sure that lower-income communities no longer bear the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. 

So how does it work? The state gathers census data, total coronavirus tests and cases. Then they calculate two numbers—the overall positivity rate for the county and the overall rate for the county’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. If the neighborhoods lag significantly behind the rest of the county then the county will not be allowed to move forward with reopening. 


That’s how it works technically, but there are important spin-off effects: The Department of Health hopes that this metric will incentivize counties to put their resources towards the communities with the greatest need. By focusing on those most at risk, they hope to reduce transmission in all communities.


While there is concern that this focus on equity will slow down local economic recovery, Secretary of Health Dr. Mark Ghaly, notes that hasn’t happened yet. 

State health officials believe California is the first in the nation to use a health equity metric in the fight against coronavirus.

Annelise Finney helped produce this story. 

David Boyer is the managing editor of KALW News. He is also the producer/host of the Murrow Award winning podcast THE INTERSECTION, which looks at our changing cities, one street corner at a time. Past seasons focussed on an intersection in the middle of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, an intersection in the middle of Google’s Mountain View campus and conceptual intersections at 2019’s Burning Man.
Annelise was born and raised in the East Bay and has a background in oral history and urban studies. For the last four and half years, she's worked as a criminal defense investigator at a public defenders office in the Bronx, New York and at an appellate defenders office in the Bay Area. As an investigator, she frequently interviews people involved in different parts of the criminal punishment system. Through her work, she has become passionate about the power of personal narratives and compelling stories to increase cross-cultural understanding and initate change.