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Officials Raise Alarm Over Spike In East Palo Alto COVID-19 Cases

EAST PALO ALTO (CBS SF) -- Officials in East Palo Alto and San Mateo County on Tuesday were scrambling to contain a COVID-19 outbreak in the blue-collar, working-class community at the southern end of the county.

"That 15 percent where we're at right now is an alarming rate; not only for East Palo Alto, but it should be for San Mateo County and Northern California as well," said East Palo Alto City Councilman Larry Moody.

The positivity rate, which measures what percentage of people test positive for the virus, is 15.4 percent in East Palo Alto. The positivity in San Mateo County overall is only 4.1 percent. Earlier Tuesday, officials announced that San Mateo County was one of three Bay Area Counties moving from the Purple or Widespread Tier of California's monitoring system to the Red or Substantial Tier.

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"Hygiene is really important, man. And I think a lot of people out here aren't taking it seriously," said Lawrence Bryant, a recent cancer survivor and East Palo Alto resident. Bryant told KPIX doctors have warned him that catching the coronavirus could jeopardize his health and life because of his pre-existing conditions.

"I don't want to get sick, man. Because if I get sick, I'm through. They already told me if I get a major illness like the flu or coronavirus, that's it for me," explained Bryant.

Councilman Moody said East Palo Alto is a city of working class families and essential workers for whom the protections of stay-at-home orders were often luxuries they simply could not afford. Add overcrowding to the mix and he says the city has all of the ingredients for a serious outbreak.

"It's a challenge. But we can address it if we're collectively committed to overcoming this virus here in the community," said Moody.

The city and county have pledged to ramp up testing. A spokesperson for the county health department released a statement committing " increase testing opportunities, outreach and education to make sure that residents have access to convenient, no-cost testing and the support that's available."

The county's strategy is straightforward: first, figure out who's sick and then help them to take precautions to prevent others from becoming infected.

"It's really unfortunate that this thing, perhaps, is going to have to knock on your front door before you believe. This virus doesn't only impact us as individuals, it affects our loved ones," said East Palo Alto resident Reginald Page.

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