Four sites test more than 1,500 residents in first day of major testing drive
10:20 a.m.:The largest one-day testing campaign of vulnerable communities got off to a smooth start early Sunday morning as San Francisco residents arrived at four free testing sites across the city to learn whether they have Covid-19.
Those testing sites, run by Unidos En Salud — a collaboration between the Latino Task Force for Covid-19 and UCSF — are in the Mission at 24th Street BART, in the Excelsior at the Crocker Amazon parking lot, in the Bayview at Mendell Plaza, and in the Tenderloin on the 100 block of Golden Gate Ave. They will be testing around 500 people per day for the next three days. All told, the campaign seeks to test 6,000 residents.
“Unidos En Salud is supporting testing for these three days — Sunday, Monday and Tuesday — then we’ll be sharing our results with the community and the city to determine what are the next steps, as we are clearly in the midst of a surge,” said Dr. Diane Havlir, a UCSF professor who has helped to spearhead low-barrier testing efforts in the Mission.
Around 9 a.m. Sunday, a line wrapped around the northeast 24th Street BART entrance, east down 24th Street, and north on Capp Street — as community volunteers in bright orange shirts and medical staff in blue medical gowns readied to test the first participants.
Javier, 52, was the first in line. He arrived at the BART plaza at 6:30 a.m. His wife had received an email on Saturday night, informing her that she was positive for Covid-19. “That’s why I’m the first one,” Javier, a plumber who lives with his wife and son, said.
“I’m in good shape for now,” he said. “I don’t feel any symptoms.”
The testing sites will be administering both Binax rapid tests, which deliver results in 15 minutes, and PCR tests, which take longer but are more accurate. Each person will receive both. A 24th Street testing drive in late July found an 11 percent infection rate among Latinx residents, and Havlir said, “we are in a surge, so we can expect to find numbers that might be within that range.”
10:27 a.m.: The Tenderloin site at St. Anthony’s did not see an overwhelming turnout early in the morning, with around just over a dozen waiting in line. By mid-morning, the line had dwindled to less than 10, but organizers said they’re hoping for a bigger turnout after church lets out before noon.
Many people in line appear to be Latinx or unhoused.
Kevine Boggess, who recently won a spot on the San Francisco Board of Education, showed up early with his wife, Chelsea, and their 2-year-old daughter, Nailah. They came because they wanted to get Nailah back into the small daycare she usually attends. “We need so many more of these,” Boggess said.
Susana Rojas, the coordinator at the Tenderloin site, said getting people in line on Sunday meant three days of door-to-door outreach in English and Spanish. She predicts that Sunday might be a little slow, but participation on Monday and Tuesday will be higher.
Rojas said participants will know their results by the end of the day. If they are positive, they will hear from a Community Wellness Team member, and receive food and cleaning supplies.
Calder Lorenz, a program manager at St. Anthony’s, was excited about the collaboration with the Latino Task Force and said many residents and families need access to covid testing. “Many families and unhoused people do not have the ability to get to other testing sites,” he said. “So we’re excited to meet folks where they’re at, and bring it to them.”
11:00 a.m.: The testing site at Mendell Plaza on Third Street has been quiet all morning. Around 11 a.m., only around five people had received tests. Phlebotomists waited in their tents.
Diane Jones, a former HIV nurse at UCSF and one of the Bayview site’s coordinators, knew the Bayview would be the trickiest site because UCSF has not done as many pop-up testing sites in the Bayview. The only other one was in early June, in a test of 4,000 residents.
“We’re known on 24th Street and we’re known in the Mission,” Jones said. “In our experience it takes longer than the first day. It’s early Sunday. We’re hoping more people come later.”
Jesse Shahbi, 63, and Lou Zamble, 60, learned about the free testing by happenstance. The couple was walking to get groceries when they saw the tents and flyers and decided to check it out. It turned out to be convenient, because both will soon be traveling for a funeral and they need a test to fly.
“I saw the flyers, and I said, ‘okay!'” Sahbi said.
Teryce Lowe, a Hunters Point resident and home-care worker, spotted the tent on her way to see a client. And after her work was done, Lowe came back to the site. It was her first test.
She thinks she may have been exposed in the last couple of weeks and wanted to be sure. “I think it’s a good location,” she said, noting that many people gather at the plaza to transfer buses. “But maybe it’s better to come on the weekdays instead of weekends.”
Kacey Murray, 33, lives in the outer Sunset and found out about the Bayview site on website of the testing lab Color, which processes many of the city’s free tests.
Murray has been tested 10 times throughout the pandemic because she lives with her parents who are elderly. She does not believe she’s infected but paranoia brought her to the Bayview on Sunday. “I just know people lately have had scratchy throats and allergies,” she said, laughing.
11:38 a.m.: The Excelsior site is seeing a strong turnout, with some 40 cars lined up on Moscow Street in the drive-through line, and a couple dozen waiting in the walk-up line.
“The lines are pretty normal for our site,” said Patricia Barraza, a lead site coordinator who also works with the organization Excelsior Strong.
She said the lines started forming at around 9 a.m., and she’s hoping to test 500 people by 3 p.m. “In this particular neighborhood, we’re definitely looking to support our immigrant population and also our families who are living in homes with a lot of other families,” she said.
Laura Sanchez was waiting in line in her car, along with her husband, son and daughter. The family disovered the daughter, 4, was positive for the virus after being tested at the 24th Street site last Monday — though the rest of the family was negative at that time. They think she may have contracted the virus from her daycare teacher.
They’ve since quarantined, and Sanchez and her family came to the Excelsior site on Sunday to find out whether the rest of the family is infected. If not, they hope they can return to work.
“We weren’t visiting anyone and we weren’t going out, but we realized we had to figure out how to quarantine in our small household,” Sanchez said.
1:25 p.m.: As demand for covid tests remained strong at the Mission and Excelsior test sites in the afternoon, both the Tenderloin and Bayview sites remained relatively quiet.
By around 1 p.m., the Bayview site had given approximately 100 tests, while the Tenderloin site had provided just more than 200.
Organizers at the Bayview site said they did quite a bit of outreach in census tracts where transmission and infection appeared the highest. They canvassed and passed out flyers at churches. They knocked on doors, and stopped people in the street. Still, on Sunday, relatively few came.
Martiza Gomez, a lead coordinator at the Bayview site and a Youth Services Coordinator at Mission Neighborhood Centers Bayview location, attributed the low turnout to organizers having fewer ties to the neighborhood.
“It’s just building the relationship at this moment,” Gomez said. “The community needs to know us and our site.”
Raymond Whitley, another lead organizer at the Bayview site — who frequently works in the Bayview community — said he came to the project “kind of at the last minute” and did not have the time draw out as many residents as he could.
For the next project, he said, he would make sure outreach goes deeper into the Bayview and out toward the shipyard. “This is the Bayview borderline, and typical events are here — it’s a great location,” he said. “But the Bayview is a big area.”
Turnout at the Tenderloin site also remained low. Some of the unhoused individuals in the area surrounding the test site displayed apathy or wariness toward the testing effort. Some noted they didn’t want a swab in their nose, while others said society had already rejected them and failed to see the point of a covid test.
V’launce Davis, a homeless resident, ended up taking a test, but he explained why many unhoused people in the Tenderloin could be skeptical of Covid-19 testing.
“People don’t want to get tested because they’re scared it’s a drug test,” Davis said. “They feel like it’s personal, the drugs they do. A lot of people don’t want people to know they’re using meth and crack and fentanyl.”
Davis said that the free testing can easily perceived as doctors doing “experiments” on people for purposes other than covid testing.
Calder Lorenz, who works with St. Anthony’s and is helping out at the Tenderloin site, said that mobile testing — which had been done during UCSF’s testing of the homeless in October — would be more effective. Also, he said, offering incentives such as gift cards, would help to lure participants.
“Even a $10 gift card is very effective,” he said.
2:48 p.m.: By contrast, lines at the Excelsior site remained strong.
Jasmin Rojas took a $20 bus ride, which was “packed,” to Los Angeles to spend Thanksgiving with her family, and drove back up with her boyfriend. She knew she needed a covid test and, having learned about the free testing through a friend on Instagram, she showed up at the Excelsior site Sunday.
“It’s about what I expected,” she said. “I figured it would be pretty busy today.”
Oscar Grande, a community organizer with PODER SF, was helping out at the site on Sunday.
“Our goal here is to really pinpoint particular precincts in the Excelsior district to find out who’s positive, and then figure out solutions and resources that folks need in order to recuperate,” he said.
6:35 p.m.: The four low-barrier pop-ups throughout the city tested approximately 1,540 people by day’s end, according to estimates provided by site coordinators. The total was lower than the goal of 2,000, as the Bayview site drew a slim 176 people and the Tenderloin site drew about 260. The 24th Street site tested “more than 500,” according to its site lead, and the Excelsior site tested approximately 600.
“Hoping for more foot traffic on Monday,” said Diane Jones, a retired HIV nurse at UCSF and a lead coordinator at the Bayview site.
She said that organizers will try a bigger social media push and more door-to-door outreach to get people out to the site. The fact that they began on a Sunday also might explain the quiet day in some locations.
Dr. Diane Havlir, a lead UCSF researcher who is helping to coordinate the entire four-site testing campaign, said the team will have to adjust their mobilization efforts, but “we’ll continue to mobilize,” she said.
Susana Rojas, a member of the Latino Task Force for Covid-19 and a lead coordinator at the Tenderloin site, was pleased with her site’s turnout. “For a Sunday in the Tenderloin, that was pretty good, and we are happy,” she said.
Patricia Barraza, the lead at the Excelsior site, said that outreach at every site was equal. “One of the reasons we were so busy is that we’re a drive-up site,” she said.
Jones encouraged residents to visit the Bayview site on Monday and Tuesday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“There’s no wait,” she said.
Check back for updates.