North Beach, May 3, 2020. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

In a vast expansion of city testing, all essential workers, regardless of whether they’re showing symptoms, can now get tested, Mayor London Breed announced today. 

That includes every worker deemed “essential,” including “health care workers, first responders, grocery clerks, construction workers, drivers, childcare workers and others who continue to leave their homes each day to serve San Francisco during the Stay Home Order,” the mayor’s office announced. 

The announcement could more than double San Francisco’s testing — a move widely considered by experts as one of the first steps toward reopening the city. For more than a week, the city has had the capacity to test 4,300 people a day, but has been testing far below that number.  Today’s expansion — along with last week’s expansion into nursing homes — indicates an effort to test to the city’s full capacity. 

“This is really a game-changer,” Mayor Breed said at the 1 p.m. press conference. “This is going to make a world of difference in ensuring that we are aware and we keep the public safe.”

Dr. Grant Colfax, the director of the Department of Public Health, noted that the city focused first on first-responders and those showing symptoms. He said that public health officials would continue to expand testing.  “As the circle keeps widening, we now can test more people without symptoms, including close contacts, residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities and essential workers,” he said. 

The city’s two testing sites — one at the Embaradero, and the other in SoMa — can handle 1,500 tests per day. Essential workers can make an appointment for a test here.  

The health department is also providing free tests at Southeast Health Center in the Bayview, Castro-Mission Health Center in the Castro, Maxine Hall Health Center in the Western Addition, and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital in the Mission. “Appointments for tests are still necessary at all sites in order to ensure social distancing and reduce the number of people waiting for a test at any given time,” according to the mayor’s office. 

Essential workers can go to the website to register for appointments and will be sent to the appropriate place. Essential workers can also register by calling 311. Any San Francisco resident with symptoms can also be tested for free. 

Later in the 1 p.m. press conference, Dr. Colfax said the city would next be expanding testing to shelters and congregate living places such as single-room occupancy hotels.

Othman Laraki, the CEO of Color, the lab processing the tests at the Embarcadero and SoMa sites, said in the press release, “Given that the majority of transmissions of COVID-19 are likely originating from asymptomatic carriers, the broadening of criteria is an important step in achieving universal access to testing.”  He added that expansions in testing will “accelerate the re-opening of the American economy.”

On Friday, the health department mandated testing at all skilled nursing facilities, which are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus outbreaks. Last month, a convalescent hospital in the Fillmore area experienced an outbreak of 36 residents and 26 staff. As of April 23, four residents had died there

Despite the expansion of testing, gaps remain. So far, universal testing has not been extended to other congregate living areas, such as single-room-occupancy hotels and homeless shelters, which remain particularly vulnerable to outbreaks.

Nevertheless, the mayor’s office says it will continue to expand its testing, which began March 2. As of today, 20,433 people in San Francisco have been tested, with an average of 9 percent testing positive.

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. The web site you link to to sign up for free testing doesn’t work on Chrome or Firefox.