SF Program Pays COVID-19 Patients to Stay Home

The Right to Recover program will pay thousands in financial aid to those with the virus.

The Right to Recover program, which launched today, will allocate $2 million of philanthropic donations from the city’s Give2SF COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to up to 1,500 COVID-19-positive San Francisco residents. These individuals will receive the equivalent of two weeks’ worth of wages earned with a full-time, minimum wage job — or $1,285.60. If an individual needs additional recovery time, the wages can be extended for an additional two weeks — for a maximum of $2,2571.20.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who worked in collaboration with her staff, doctors from UC San Francisco and the Latino Task Force on COVID-19 to create this program, explained how it works. 

First, individuals have to get tested for COVID-19. Ronen said it doesn’t matter where the testing occurs — whether done at a hospital like Kaiser or a neighborhood pop-up clinic, all of the test results go to the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH). 

Next, the SFDPH will call individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 to ask whether they have experienced financial instabilities since the pandemic began and whether they might encounter financial difficulties during their quarantine over the next two weeks.

“If they say yes, that person will be put on a list; that list will be sent to one of the non-profits that are administering this program, the non-profit will call that individual and find out basically where to send the check,” Ronen said.

The funds will initially be distributed by the Mission Economic Development Agency in the Mission District, and by Young Community Developers in the Bayview. Beginning next week, funds will also be distributed by Hospitality House in the Tenderloin. Moving forward, Self-Help for the Elderly in Chinatown will allocate funding, and there are plans to distribute funds to Visitacion Valley.

Ronen explained that these organizations serve some of San Francisco’s most vulnerable communities and have “both the cultural and linguistic ability to talk to people in their preferred language so people feel safe” while they recover. 

The program also has purposefully few barriers. Both immigration status and criminal records are irrelevant, and the program does not require individuals to prove that they do not have alternative sources of financial support. According to Cristina Padilla, a spokesperson for the SFDPH, “self-declaration that the individual would have no source of income or replacement wages while in quarantine is sufficient to qualify for the program.”

Padilla said the program has two main goals: to encourage all essential workers to get tested for COVID-19 and to guarantee that workers who test positive and do not otherwise have access to replacement wages have financial support so that they may safely quarantine, halt the spread of the virus and focus on recovering.

In addition to providing alternative wages, the program also looks to ensure that individuals with COVID-19 can quarantine effectively.

“The program aims to ensure that those who qualify also receive a comprehensive and culturally competent assessment of their ability to isolate and properly self-care,” Padilla said. “In addition to replacement wages, individuals may be eligible for free hotel rooms where they can quarantine, as well as food and essential supply delivery.” 

The Right to Recover program itself was created in order to address what Ronen characterized as “stark” findings from a first-of-its-kind study done in April by UCSF and the Latino Task Force on COVID-19. Nearly 3,000 residents and workers in a Mission District census tract were tested for the virus as part of the study.

“What we found out was that 95 percent of the people that were positive were essential workers,” Ronen, who is the supervisor for the Mission District, said. “They could not work inside the home. The vast majority — about 90 percent of those who were positive in the census district — were Latinx.”

Ronen and her staff, alongside officials from UCSF and members of the Latino Task Force on COVID-19, discussed how essential workers from vulnerable communities — especially undocumented individuals who are not able to receive government assistance — feel that they cannot afford to quarantine, even if they test positive.

And the program, a response to this issue, was launched in record time.

“I’ve never seen something happen this fast in San Francisco,” Ronen said.

Data will be collected from the program to assess if it ensured that people felt safe and whether it encouraged people to get tested and to quarantine if they tested positive. Ronen said if the data shows that Right to Recovery made a difference, “we’ll be aggressively fundraising to continue the program.”

“What I would like to do, if it’s successful, is share the model throughout the rest of the state and country,” Ronen said.

Hannah Holzer is an intern covering news and culture.

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