As flu season begins, community groups and Walgreens will launch a new temporary healthcare site at the 16th Street and Mission BART Plaza where people can get free covid-19 testing and flu vaccines starting Monday, Sept. 21. 

The 900 total available flu shots will be a first for a covid community testing site, which will run on Sept. 21, Sept. 23, and Sept. 28 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Organizers hope this low-barrier site attracts more single-room-occupancy residents and continues to make it easier for essential workers and Latinx residents to protect themselves and prevent transmission of both viruses. 

Though it’s subject to change, the current plan is to conduct covid testing on the Southwest BART plaza facing Valencia Street, and to have flu vaccines on the Northeast plaza facing South Van Ness, according to Diane Jones, a retired UCSF nurse and a member of one of the main organizing groups, Unidos En Salud. About 500 covid tests and 300 flu shots will be given per day as supplies last. The last pop-up ran out of tests early due to high demand. 

The new idea to include flu vaccines came from Bevan Dufty, former San Francisco Supervisor and current director of BART, which helped launch the project. He managed to get Walgreens to sign on to provide pharmacists and the shots. 

“There’s a lot of news speculation that there will be a second [covid] spike as flu season arrives,” Dufty said. “The numbers are so disproportionate [in those communities] so anything that we can do to drive down those numbers has to be done.”

Immunizations also help prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed, “which is even more important in a pandemic,” said Satinder Sandhu, the San Francisco Area Healthcare Supervisor at Walgreens. 

Earlier this week the UCSF emergency department recorded this season’s first hospitalized case of influenza A, said Dr. Maria Raven, the chief of emergency medicine at UCSF. She noted that the UCSF emergency department is also implementing covid and flu testing for incoming patients. 

“One of the big things we’re thinking about is, as everyone’s been talking about, the impact of covid combined with influenza,” Raven said at a UCSF covid presser on Wednesday.

Moving this test site to 16th Street additionally allows a stronger outreach effort to nearby SRO residents, said Jon Jacobo, an organizer with one of the project’s partners, the Latino Task Force. Flyers will be passed out to neighboring SRO buildings and businesses this weekend. 

SRO residents may be more at risk for contracting the disease due to their living situations. So far, 539 SRO residents have tested positive for covid in the city, and four have died, data shows.  

“We are one Mission, and we want to ensure that we are providing the same love and service on 16th Street [as 24th],” Jacobo said, noting the desire to test Latinx essential workers and transit riders that missed the last pop-up covid testing site on 24th Street. 

Another goal is to build upon data from the 24th Street pilot, in which Unidos En Salud and its partners tested 2,622 people, Jones said. Nine percent came up positive, with an 11 percent positivity rate among the Latinx population. 

Jones said they want to learn more about how to minimize the time frame between when people are symptomatic, test, receive results, and self-isolate. On average, people at the 24th Street study said this took approximately five days. The study also revealed that 48 percent of those who tested positive had levels of virus indicative of the covid’s most infectious stage, which occurs up to five days after someone experiences symptoms.

It can also provide more information about transit riders. At the 24th Street site, 45 percent of those who got a test used BART or Muni that day; seven percent of people who came to the testing site via public transit tested positive. However, no conclusions about transit and covid can be made without more knowledge, Jones said. 

So on Monday, expect lines of people, walk-ins, a “fast-track” option for essential workers, and no checks for insurance or identification. Chan Zuckerberg BioHub will continue to process results, with a goal to relay results in one to two days. 

This was designed to attract low-income and essential workers, who are especially confronted with the disease, as organizers argue that essential workers may be more likely to spread the virus throughout the city, as they forgo self-quarantine for paychecks. The Latinx population continues to be disproportionately affected by covid in the city

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