ICYMI: USA TODAY reports: "Asian Americans in San Francisco are dying at alarming rates from COVID-19: Racism is to blame"

COVID-19 is killing Asian Americans in the Bay Area. In this six-part series, USA TODAY investigates how systemic racism is driving high death rates.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

By Marco della Caval, USA TODAY

SAN FRANCISCO –   … It is easy to mistake San Francisco for a thriving Asian American haven. The city, which is its own county, boasts a bustling Chinatown, as well as a popular Japantown. Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Vietnamese, Indians and Filipinos also have made their homes here. All told, Asians in San Francisco represent upward of 20 countries. 

So far, 38% of the 123 COVID-19 deaths reported by the San Francisco Department of Public Health are Asian American residents, the most of any ethnicity.

Experts also are concerned that positivity rates among Asian Americans in San Francisco could be far higher than the 12% reported, a by-product of the decades-in-the-making model minority myth, which characterizes this ethnic group as financially successful, physically healthy and upwardly mobile. This belief has caused segments of the Asian American community to long be overlooked when it comes to social services for housing, employment and health.  …

In many cases, Asian Americans in this city have received imprecise or no information in their native language about testing, safety tips, housing and other critical care services during the pandemic. At the same time, the community is struggling with inadequate access to comprehensive health care, the need to keep front-line employment and growing incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes.

“This model minority thing, that’s not us,” said Judy Young, executive director of the Southeast Asian Development Center  …

“There is the language barrier and our community is small,” Young said. “So the city doesn’t think we have any problems when we do.” …

… For many Asian Americans in San Francisco, the high rate of COVID-19 deaths is directly linked to the corrosive and distorting effects of the model minority myth, said Dr. Tung Nguyen, a University of California, San Francisco professor of medicine.

Nguyen co-authored a report in May by the Asian American Research Center on Health that called attention to the fact that 50% of San Francisco’s 31 COVID-19 deaths at that time were among Asian Americans, disproportionately high considering they make up just over a third of the population.

Nguyen said a lack of detailed data about Asian Americans often means that city funds aren’t allocated to this group.  

“The truth is we are the ones who lose out as a result of this stereotype,” he added. … 

“With Asian Americans, the average always is pulled way up by those doing very well, which means you miss the groups who clearly are not,” said Margaret Simms, a nonresident fellow with The Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., who specializes in race and labor economics. The think tank found nearly 13% of Asian American senior citizens live in poverty compared to a 9% national average. …

… But many other Asians said they are largely neglected by government officials. …

Department of Public Health officials declined an interview request about outreach efforts.

….  Asian Americans in San Francisco are often left behind by city partnerships aimed at helping vulnerable populations. Efforts to increase COVID-19 testing sites largely involve Latino groups, such as Unidos En Salud. The city's various isolation and quarantine sites for the homeless and partially housed also are being used largely by the city's Latino population, with Hispanics making up 45% of those in shelters while Asians account for 7%.

 … The virus has many of San Francisco’s Asian Americans living like shut-ins. …

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This article is part of a six-part series published in USA Today. Click here to read this article.