What We’re Doing to Get Through the COVID-19 Health Emergency

This is a trying time for everyone. It certainly has been for so many of my friends, family, and Senate staff in the Capitol and my San Francisco District Office. And then there are the nearly one million people I represent, including those who’ve been infected, those at great risk, and those who are just trying to figure out what is happening, what they should or shouldn’t be doing, and how they will survive.

The impacts of COVID-19 — the novel coronavirus — have been felt all over the world, across our country, throughout California, and of course, in our own community. Just today, San Francisco and five other Bay Area Counties issued a stay-at-home order except for essential needs and ordered all non-essential businesses to close. The hardship and challenges — particularly to seniors and people with chronic health conditions — cannot be overstated. We must look out for each other and keep constant tabs on our vulnerable neighbors, families, friends, and co-workers.

Many workers impacted by this emergency — particularly those not classified as employees — are at significant risk of losing their housing and not being able to pay the bills.

Our most vulnerable community members are feeling the impacts of COVID-19 and the social distancing measures most acutely. These critical public health measures slow the spread of the virus, but come with consequences. People who must work — including frontline healthcare workers, first responders, and grocery and pharmacy workers — may have kids at home without childcare. Seniors who live alone might be struggling with the challenges that come with isolation. Immunocompromised individuals — people with cancer, HIV, respiratory and chronic illnesses — are being forced to take extra precaution and may not have access to critical resources. Seniors and immunocompromised individuals are also more likely to get seriously ill or die from COVID-19.

Though we have important resources available right now for those in need (more on those available resources further down), this whole crisis speaks to the larger reasons why we need a dramatically better and stronger social safety net in this nation and in California.

The era of decimating government services must end.

While California is far ahead of many other states in terms of our social safety net, we’re way behind where we need to be to ensure our most vulnerable community members don’t have to live in fear of financial consequences in moments like these. For those living paycheck-to-paycheck, eviction is a real possibility after a few missed shifts. So many Californians are living without quality health care, and many are uninsured. And workers and caregivers who might need to miss work if they’re sick are often left with an impossible choice: Should I go to work and risk getting others sick, or stay home and potentially lose my job and become financially insolvent?

This is what I’m doing right now to address the immediate and potential long term impacts if this crisis

Preventing Evictions, Both Residential and Commercial

On Friday, I co-signed a letter to the Governor and the Chief Justice, asking for a moratorium on rent-nonpayment evictions and eviction lawsuits. I’m partnering with Assemblymember Phil Ting on emergency legislation to place those moratoria into law.

I’m also partnering with Senator Lena Gonzalez of Long Beach on emergency legislation to place a moratorium on commercial non-payment evictions. So many small businesses are losing most or all of their revenue. If they close, we want to maximize the chances that those closures are temporary. It would be extremely damaging to our communities to have permanent mass closures of small neighborhood retail, restaurant, and nightlife businesses.

And — nationally, statewide, and locally — we must take triage steps to shore up our safety net. We must ensure — now — that workers and small business owners who are laid off or otherwise losing income have financial supports. We must ensure small businesses can stay afloat even as they close. We must ensure that frontline workers — those essential to our healthcare system, first responders, and those essential to the availability of food and other essentials — are able to go to work even if their kids are home. We must expand healthcare capacity quickly — no small task given how negligent our nation has been at ensuring resilient and accessible healthcare and public health systems — and ensure absolutely everyone has access to the healthcare they need. We must quickly transition homeless people off the streets and into a healthier setting.

Long Term Responses

Yet, we need more than emergency measures. Now and in the long term, we need to ensure we are never in this situation again. We must ensure that everyone has access to paid sick leave, paid family leave, comprehensive healthcare, and, of course, housing, given that being homeless has major health consequences, during a pandemic and generally.

But it’s not enough. I have hope that California and the nation can develop, in light of the COVID-19 crisis, a broader understanding of just how many people in our society live in or on the brink of poverty and homelessness and how many are forced to make impossible choices every day.

And we must rebuild our nation’s public health infrastructure. COVID-19 has revealed glaring deficiencies in our capacity to respond to a health emergency. Federal health agencies have been hollowed out, and we have more work to do here in California. We’re lucky in San Francisco to have the best Department of Public Health in the nation. We need to ensure that all Americans have the public health support they need during critical times.

What you can do right now

If you or someone you know is struggling right now because of COVID-19 or the impacts of social distancing, please see the following resources that are available to you right now.

Please note that if you are insured, you will not need to pay a co-pay to get tested for COVID-19.

Here are a few links that different departments of public health are keeping updated every day with guidelines, warnings, and reported cases:

California Department of Public Health — statewide updates

San Francisco Department of Public Health — local guidance

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — federal guidance

Many workers will experience significant hardship as a result of the pandemic and the new stay-at-home/business closure order. You may be eligible for various benefits, including paid sick leave, disability insurance, unemployment insurance, partial unemployment insurance, or paid family leave. You can learn more about and apply for these benefits are all linked here, here or here.

Our frontline nonprofits are also continuing to serve our community, despite massive challenges caused by the pandemic, including loss of volunteers and loss of funding due to cancellation of fundraising events.

If you need food, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank and Meals on Wheels continue to operate.

And if you’re able to help in this time of need, check out this helpful Twitter thread by my colleague, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks.

If you have questions, please get in contact with my office. Give us a call at 415–557–1300. We are here to help.

And please, wash your hands!

CA State Senator. Urbanist. Environmentalist. Advocate for transit, housing, clean energy, criminal justice reform, health, ending poverty. Democrat. 🏳️‍🌈

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