Dozens of cars and people lined the mural-laden Alemany Farmers’ Market stalls Tuesday, looking for nose swabs instead of fresh produce.
The city designated the state’s first farmers’ market as a new Covid-19 testing site and launched it Tuesday, in part to address the glaring covid disparities confronting southeastern neighborhoods in San Francisco.
It will offer some 500 tests a day, and run Mondays, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.; Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Residents or employees of San Francisco can walk up or drive through (one man came via electric scooter). They’re asked to reserve an appointment in advance online, but limited walk-ups are also accepted. If online appointment slots run out, don’t fret: every Wednesday, a new block of slots will be released, said Pam Forbes, who does site infrastructure for Color Labs, which has been processing many of the city’s covid tests.
The farmers’ market replaces the SoMa testing site, which was one of two massive, low-barrier, free testing sites run by CityTest SF and Color. City officials agreed to swap locations about a month ago in the hope of providing more accessible testing — no payments nor insurance, and walk-up appointments — to neighborhoods with high rates of coronavirus infection.
In a press conference on Monday, Mayor London Breed said the location, at 100 Alemany Blvd., was selected for its proximity to Bayview Hunters Point and Oceanview-Merced-Ingleside (OMI); it’s also close to the Excelsior. All three neighborhoods have high coronavirus infections relative to the rest of the city.
“We know the Southeast sector has the highest case rates in the city. We want to make sure testing is easy,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a University of California San Francisco professor of epidemiology.
“San Francisco will say forever that we have the highest per capita testing, and we do,” Bibbins-Domingo said. “But we’re somewhat slower to get to the level of testing required to bring case rates down in Latino neighborhoods.”
Latinx residents make up 15 percent of the population, but almost half of the city’s covid cases.
Before the Alemany site opened, most of these southeastern neighborhoods only offered testing pop-ups that ran once or twice a week or community clinics. Currently, the Mission District and Bayview Hunters Point are still facing the highest rates of new daily cases in the city, and new infections in San Francisco are skyrocketing overall.
So moving a “high capacity” site to Alemany may be a “smart strategy” to test at-risk populations, said the Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax in a statement. To underscore that, CityTest SF now encourages those with insurance to get tested through healthcare providers or primary doctors now too, to ration limited testing resources for those without.
“We must manage our public testing resources in the most efficient ways possible to slow the spread of the virus,” Colfax said. “Re-allocating these testing resources to the area of the city with highest rate of infection is critical.”
Overall, the city is collecting more than 5,800 tests a day and administers and funds 55 percent of those. Color, which does the testing and will do so for Alemany, delivers 86 percent of its results within 24 hours and 99 percent within 48 hours to date.
Members of the Latino Task Force, which has consistently tested San Francisco’s Latinx community, have long questioned why the massive, fixed CityTest SF sites were placed in low-infection and higher-income areas like the Embarcadero, which gave out 2,000 tests, and SoMa, which gave 500.
It’s too early to tell whether the Alemany site will draw in the highly impacted populations Breed and Colfax say it will. On Tuesday, there was a diverse mix of people and several modest cars, which is a good sign compared to the “parade of Teslas, Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes” found at the former SoMa site, according to a Disaster Service Worker staffed at SoMa and Alemany.
It is unclear how much — if any — outreach CityTest SF has done for the site, especially to southeastern neighborhoods or the Latinx population, save for general Covid-19 press conferences.
On the eve of opening day, Jon Jacobo, the health committee chair for the Latino Task Force, said he was unaware of any outreach done to the Latinx community about the fixed site, though he’s happy the city has finally placed a fixed site there following months of advocacy. University of California San Francisco mass testing campaigns usually involved community-led outreach and flyers to access these populations.
“I’m happy with [having a site in] the Southeast sector, but partner with community in this process and you’ll net better results,” Jacobo said.
He wondered, too, if the site’s irregular schedule might cause confusion; the different times are so the farmers’ market can be set up on the weekend. Jacobo noted even at the UCSF/Latino Task Force campaigns, inconsistent times drew fewer people.
“Consistency matters so much. Altering times for us has, in some cases, dropped our flow. Fewer people come,” Jacobo said.
Still, that didn’t stop about 140 people from getting their noses swabbed by 10:45 a.m., about two hours after appointments began. Part of the reason was the city’s convenience.
Tatyana Givins, who lives in the Lakeshore, said she needed a test after her roommate tested positive a few days ago. Her doctor’s office was booked far in advance for covid tests, but she heard about this through the Citizen app. Givins was unable to book an appointment with CityTest SF, but decided to try her luck at Alemany upon learning walk-ups were available. It was her first test.
“It was really easy,” Givins said. “I thought I was going to be here longer.”
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