People line up at the 16th St. Mission BART Plaza to get free covid testing at the pop-up site's opening day on Monday, Sept. 21 at 9 a.m. Photo by Annika Hom.

Clad in vibrant orange and face-shields, Unidos En Salud volunteers scampered alongside BART commuters as they exited the 16th Street Mission BART Plaza, asking if they want a free covid-19 test and flu shot. 

Those who agree are directed to the latest covid-19 study deployed by Unidos En Salud, a partnership between UCSF and the community organization Latino Task Force that runs today, Sept. 23, and Sept. 28 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’s the collaboration’s third time establishing a pop-up, offering 500 covid tests a day, but this operation has raised the stakes: a test result turnaround goal of 24 hours, about 300 daily available flu shots, and scrupulous data collection. 

But late Monday night, preliminary results from the first day revealed less than half of the available tests and shots were actually used: 220 covid tests and 105 flu shots.  Diane Jones, a former UCSF HIV nurse volunteering with the effort, said it is unclear why there is a shortage of people, but that the organizations will outreach Tuesday. In contrast, tests ran out on the 24th BART pilot’s first day. 

“Not bad for a new site as far as I am concerned,” Jones said in an email to Mission Local.

The pop-up also comes following a biting Mission Local report revealing that despite making up more than 50 percent of SF covid cases, Latinx make up only 9 percent of testing –— and a sizable portion of those tests have been done by the UCSF/Latino Task Force sites.

“That’s why we continue to push to have consistent testing in the Mission,” Susana Rojas of the Latino Task Force said. “We need to have our Latino population go down to have a healthy rest of the city.”

And key to doing so is to lower the time it takes for infected community members to access care, organizers said. The last study at the 24th Street Mission BART Plaza suggested people learned they were covid-positive too late. Some who tested positive experienced symptoms but continued to use public transit or went to work in essential jobs. 

Chan Zuckerberg BioHubs labs, which promised to process 500 tests from the 16th street site, aims to give residents results within a record-time of 24 hours. Thus, those infected can self-quarantine faster, said Jones. 

This time the researchers are implementing systematic random sampling to compensate for an overcount of those who are more inclined to get tested, Jones said. Thus, volunteers manned at Muni and BART entrances are asking random passersby to participate (while handing out masks); those who decline may have their reasoning recorded for future data analysis, too. 

Another new feature — free flu vaccines that Walgreens pharmacists administered at the 16th Street Plaza across the street. 

Medical experts warned the flu may complicate hospital capacity or exacerbate symptoms of covid-positive patients. About 20 people received their flu vaccinations at the plaza by 10 a.m. Monday, and each was directed across the street for covid tests. 

Steve Kranz was on his way to work from Oakland when he spotted the flu vaccines, and then lined up for the covid tests. 

“It’s convenient,” Kranz said, who works at a 3D-printing company on 14th and Folsom. 

Transit riders like Kranz are one demographic researchers are especially interested in. In the work-from-home age, it’s essential workers who mostly ride the rails, and data shows how much more prone they are to contracting the virus. However, the jury is still out regarding conclusive relationships between transit and covid, experts said

Roy Rahim Butler, a Richmond, Calif. resident, hopped off the 14 bus to get a test. He said he felt obligated to get one, since he began working with the homeless at Safe Sleeping Village last week. 

“I work in this community, I gotta be responsible,” Butler said. “This is a great spot.”

Roy Rahim Butler, a Richmond, Calif. resident, stopped for a covid test on his way to work.

About 50 people got tested Monday morning by 10 a.m., despite it being a busy intersection. 

Jones said for a first day, it’s not unheard of to have less traffic, especially when outreach was minimal and directed at the nearby community. Last weekend, the Latino Task Force passed out flyers and “fast-track tickets” to essential businesses and about five single-resident-occupancy buildings in the area. 

SRO residents, too, are a demographic the testing project specifically targeting in this study, since there are more near 16th Street. 

Some 548 SRO residents have tested positive since the pandemic began, and four died, current data shows. One homeless man was tested for the first time at the site this morning and was directed to social services by a volunteer. 

In line with prior studies was the low-barrier testing blueprint designed for low-income Latinx. The free site invited walk-ins, multilingual surveys and referral to resources. Neither insurance or identification are asked for. 

It also facilitates access to locals, which was a tenet for the study’s organizers.  

John, a senior resident who lives on Guerrero Street and declined to give his last name, said the proximity allows him to get a flu vaccine and covid test without exacerbating his walking disability.  

“I get tired pretty easily, this is easy,” he said, noting this would be his first covid test. “If it’s right here, I might as well know.”

Walgreens employees set up shop at the other 16th Street Mission BART Plaza to administer free flu vaccines. Photo by Annika Hom.

Mission resident Anna Rosa Velazquez squeezed in a test before leaving for Mexico this week, thus necessitating a quick test instead of an appointment booked two weeks ahead, like at SOMA and Embarcadero. 

“The Mission was hit the hardest with covid,” said Velazquez, who identifies as Afro-Latinx. 

“We’re working class, it’s important to have accessibility.”

Anna Rosa Velazquez, a Mission resident, squeezed in a covid test before heading to a protest downtown. Photo by Annika Hom.


Unidos En Salud organizers gear up before the test site opens. Photo by Annika Hom.
Bay Area Phlebotomy and Laboratory Services employees go over covid-19 test training just shy of 9 a.m. at the 16th Street Mission BART Plaza. Photo by Annika Hom.

Note: This story was updated on Tuesday, 9:56 a.m. with new information regarding the number of covid tests and flu vaccines administered on the first day and a comment by Diane Jones. 

Support Mission Local’s on-the-ground-reporting here. Thanks for reading.

Follow Us

REPORTER. 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 on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

Leave a comment

Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *