The COVID-19 testing site at the 24th Street BART Station ran out of tests five hours before it was set to close today. 

The pop-up site at the BART station operated for the second time today in an effort to test Latinos and essential workers, who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, according to recent studies. Organizers blocked off the line at 1 p.m., after administering nearly 500 tests. 

Although flyers advertising the testing site noted it would run from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., the site flew through its 500 testing kits well before its advertised closing time. On Wednesday – its first day of operation – it ran out of tests by 3 p.m.

Cesar Gomez slipped away from the construction site he works at in the Mission at about 2:45 p.m. today, still clad in his tan coveralls. When he arrived at the BART plaza, volunteers told him to return next week. But he might not be in the neighborhood then, he explained, since his job takes him all across the Bay Area. In the end, they relented and a UCSF volunteer swabbed his nose.  

“I got lucky, though,” Gomez said. 

He did get lucky. A couple that was directed to the BART testing site by a clinic in the Castro was gently turned away moments after Gomez arrived. The 15 remaining tests were slated for those who missed the cut on Wednesday, the testers explained. 

People like Gomez — Latino, essential workers — are exactly who this site was designed for, said Jon Jacobo, an organizer who helped launch the site with the Latino Task Force, UCSF, Calle24 and BART.  Still, he said, they compete with other San Franciscans who are similarly attracted to the site’s accessibility: it’s free and doesn’t require insurance, ID, or an appointment.  

Susana Rojas, one of the organizers for the Latino Task Force and the executive director of Calle24, said that no one wants to discriminate against anyone wanting a test, but they also want to encourage those with insurance or other options to use them. 

“This test is for the people who need it most,” Rojas said. “If you have private insurance and means to get tested somewhere else, then do that. Allow the people who don’t have access to those needs to get this test. This is an equity issue.”

“It’s not that we don’t care about them,” Jacobo added. “It’s that the root of the problem is in the Latino community.” 

Yet the issue of early closure looms. The testing site can only disperse 500 tests a day to ensure that laboratories can keep the pace of processing results within five days, and so those who test positive can receive adequate care. The five-day window is faster than other sites, which is why some decided to get tested at the BART plaza. 

More importantly to Jacobo and Rojas, though, early closure means that some essential workers who work day jobs might not be able to access tests. 

“We want to build capacity for those workers who start at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. who get off at 2 or 3 p.m.,” Jacobo said. “As you see, we’re ending before that.” 

When the testing site capped out at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, those who didn’t make the cut were given an opportunity to sign up for a prioritized appointment today. Today, organizers hit the quota by 1 p.m., and remained open for those who had made appointments back on Wednesday. 

Still, the pop-up debut yielded success in the task force’s eyes: 71 percent of those tested on Wednesday identified as Latino, according to preliminary data they gathered from intake surveys, Jacobo said. Several essential workers based on 24th Street who were given special “fast track” tickets to bypass the line also showed up. 

“We need to test the right people,” Jacobo said. The Latino Task Force has another site on Alabama Street on Thursdays, and initial data from those tests show that the risk of transmission is higher among Latinos than other groups in the city. 

“My tagline is, ‘follow the data,’” he said. Jacobo also said that the city should concentrate resources and do more testing in the southeast sector, primarily the Mission, the Bayview, and the Excelsior. “Focus on that sector, and we’ll lower the rate of transmission to the rest of the city.”

And the data is clear: at present, the Latino population accounts for 49.6 percent of the city’s 6,197 cases, while representing only 15 percent of the city’s population. Previous studies conducted by UCSF and the Latino Task Force showed that a large number of positive COVID-19 cases are among Latinxs earning less than $50,000 a year, and many are asymptomatic. A key strategy to stopping transmission is to test as many people as possible and to quarantine those who are positive, according to medical experts.

Clearly, people of all backgrounds are showing up to the 24th Street pop-up because of its lack of barriers and quick turnaround, especially when compared to how long it takes to get results from family doctors and other sites. The word got out quickly and other clinics are sending people to the BART testing site. As it prepares for its second week next Wednesday and Friday, the group is unsure if it will get more tests to meet the demand. In the past, the Latino Task Force had to kick up dust to get 300 tests for its Alabama site. The Latino Task Force and UCSF, who run the site, are brainstorming solutions. 

“That’s what we’re focusing on and prioritizing for next week,” Rojas said, “to make sure that those populations who haven’t got tested can.”

Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

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5 Comments

  1. These test sites are clearly not just for the uninsured (according to city data, 96.7% of SF residents have health insurance, though surely more people have lost their insurance recently). The issue is that some of the options for testing with insurance often will not not test people without symptoms and a referral from a doctor, and those sites may have extremely long turnaround times for results. It makes no sense to have both hard-to-access testing with slow results and low-barrier testing with fast results and then fret that the latter is too popular and that those most in need are being crowded out. Of course the easy and quick testing sites are popular when the others are difficult and slow. Every single testing site in the city should have “lack of barriers and quick turnaround.”

    1. I am an essential worker with continuous close contact with the public in my job. Even so, my health insurer, Kaiser, refuses to test me. So I try to go to the free sites every week or so to make sure I am negative or to be able to isolate myself as soon as possible if I am presymptomatic or asymptomatic.

      I tried to take Susana Rojas’ advice and get tested by my private insurer in order to save tests for uninsured people. They flat out refused me. People are trying to do the right thing. The for-profit health system is the problem.

  2. Is it possible doctors are referring some of these people to the pop-up site because clinicians have strong suspicion they may have COVID-19? If so, there needs to be a way for doctors to fast-track that testing for their patients, or else they will continue to divert tests away from the target population at the 24th street corridor. There’s probably a reason the doctor sent the Castro couple over to the site. Right now, even if you are symptomatic, or have a known contact with a COVID-19 case, if you are not in a hospital or part of the state’s official contact tracing investigation, you are considered “Tier 2.” Depending on the test backlog, those tests could take more than a week to come back.
    That said, the problem is that testing is simply too slow. Less accurate, and instantaneous spit tests or strip test would be more appropriate for surveillance testing.

  3. Have no and Rosas, how can you tell if someone has Insurance.
    Another SF program that can’t get it right..
    Any lay person knows 500 tests are not sufficient, More like 1500 still would not be enough but a good start.
    Great idea but no follow through.
    Test should be offered in all 11 Supervisor districts.

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