Breakthrough COVID research. Vital health care for locals. And now it risks closure

Ella Castle

When scientists from UCSF and the city’s Department of Public Health approached San Francisco’s Latino leaders in April 2020 about testing Mission District residents for COVID during the earliest weeks of the pandemic, Valerie Tulier-Laiwa was intrigued but skeptical. The proposal was to test every resident in a four-by-four block […]

When scientists from UCSF and the city’s Department of Public Health approached San Francisco’s Latino leaders in April 2020 about testing Mission District residents for COVID during the earliest weeks of the pandemic, Valerie Tulier-Laiwa was intrigued but skeptical.

The proposal was to
test every resident
in a four-by-four block area of the neighborhood, to better understand how widespread the virus was at the time. Tulier-Laiwa, who had grown up in the Mission, was already convinced that the city’s Latinos were being hit hardest by COVID, but she and her peers lacked the data to prove it.

A formal study could provide that evidence, and help get the resources badly needed to keep the community safe. But the traditional approach to academic research — with scientists in control and their subjects gaining little beyond whatever care they receive during the study — wasn’t going to give her community the benefits it needed, Tulier-Laiwa said.

Instead, the scientists, the public health experts and the Latino community formed an unusual continuing partnership called Unidos en Salud (United in Health) that made the Mission both a research subject and a locus for services.

More than two years later, that partnership’s flagship clinic, at 24th and Capp streets in the Mission, has provided more than 90,000 COVID tests and delivered more than 60,000 vaccines, mostly to Latino clients. And the research conducted there has produced more than a dozen academic papers, several of which have reached audiences far beyond the Mission and contributed vital knowledge about COVID to the global pandemic response.

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