Hundreds more people than expected showed up for the opening day of the new Mission COVID-19 mobile testing site at Alabama and 19th streets on Thursday.

The site, located at the Latino Task Force Resource Hub, will be open for walk-up and appointment testing every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The first day was expected to be a “soft launch,” with mostly people who volunteer at the Hub being tested, but so many people showed up that the line at times stretched around the block.

“We didn’t expect this,” said Valerie Tulier-Laiwa, a coordinator with the Latino Task Force. “I drove up at 8:30 and there were already people standing in line.”

The site is normally expected to handle 100 people a day. However, the Health Department estimated that more than 250 people came through the testing location on Thursday. An exact count was not immediately available.

Some of the turnout is attributed to flyers and door hangers that were distributed in the Mission by the San Francisco Emergency Operations Center advertising the new location. Many of the flyers appeared to have been delivered Wednesday evening.

“We were surprised flyers went up,” said Tracy Brown-Gallardo, a member of the Latino Task Force, and the board chair of the Mission Language and Vocational School, where the Resource Hub is located. “We did not anticipate it, and we’re hoping the city will provide more testing so we can address populations in addition to the vulnerable Latinos we are currently serving at the Hub.”

Most people who came Thursday to be tested ended up waiting for about an hour. 

“Because this was a soft launch, there was not a robust program for the general public,” said Jon Jacobo, a member of the Latino Task Force, who said it was unfortunate as they first wanted to give the system a dry run by testing people who volunteer at the Hub.

The Resource Hub at 701 Alabama St. grew out of the COVID-19 crisis and provides assistance that ranges from help filling out unemployment paperwork, to registering for health insurance through HealthySF and Medi-Cal, to food distribution. Some 6,000 families a week receive food from the Hub, Tulier-Laiwa said. 

“All the workers — the volunteers and staff at the Hub — are at high risk because they’ve been out there doing this work,” said Diane Jones, a retired HIV nurse who volunteered with the UCSF COVID-19 Mission study. “So, the goal was to start with them. But then there was an understandable impulse to want to publicize it more broadly.”

Flyer announcing the new Mission testing site. Photo by Michael Toren.

“In the end, this is a good problem” that so many people showed up who want to be tested, she said.

Dr. Carina Marquez, an infectious disease doctor at San Francisco General Hospital and an assistant professor at UCSF, said locating the new testing site at the Resource Hub was a great pairing. “This is an essential service for the community right now, and it really is right here in the heart of the community,” she said.

Latinx people and Mission District dwellers have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19. Despite only making up 15 percent of the city’s population, Latinx people represent half of COVID-19 infections, and the Mission District has seen the highest number of cases of any neighborhood in the city.

Jacobo said the goal of locating the site at the Resource Hub was to increase test capacity to the Latinx community and the Mission District. “We’re going to find a way to be true to that, and also be good neighbors and open it up to other folks who live in this community who don’t fall into that category,” he said.

One potential solution, he said, might be to have dedicated hours when people visiting the Resource Hub for other essential services could be tested, which might be either before or after when the site is available to other members of the community. “I think that’s a good way to balance it, so we get a little bit of both,” he said, but it’s still a work in progress.

Like the new testing site that opened at GLIDE in the Tenderloin on Tuesday, tests at the new Mission site are administered by personnel from the Health Department, and the tests are processed at Health Department labs. No symptoms, health insurance, or identification are required. Test results are delivered within 72 hours, by phone. On Thursday, test specimens were collected via a throat swab rather than a nasal swab, which many people find more comfortable.

Marquez was pleased the new site had extremely low barriers to be tested.

“You don’t need to sign up online and put your email in, or get a Gmail account. You just show up, are received by the community, and go through,” she said. “No appointment, no email, no insurance, no ID, and you get your test done. I think that’s what we need in terms of low-barrier testing that’s easily accessible.”

Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Shamann Walton were originally scheduled to appear at a press conference for the site’s opening, but the event was cancelled after they were exposed to a COVID-19-positive person this week. Both have since tested negative for the virus, but they are limiting their public appearances. Several people told Mission Local the possible exposure took place Tuesday evening at a vigil for 6-year-old Jace Young, who was shot and killed over the July Fourth holiday in the Bayview.

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