A technician preps to administer a Covid-19 test at the Bartlett site. Taken Dec. 11, 2020. Photo by Annika Hom.

The Covid-19 testing site on Bartlett Street appears to have the demand, but it may need more than one nurse doing the swabbing. 

On Wednesday, 15 people waited 45 minutes to an hour and a half to meet the single Department of Public Health technician swabbing at the new Covid-19 testing site at 219 Bartlett St. 

The technician was patient and friendly and didn’t rush — probably the best decorum for probing a person’s throat and sinuses. But alone, even her averaged five-minute procedure caused a back-up. Still, there were few complaints. 

“Maybe it would be faster if there was one other person; there’s just one,” said an older, Latina Mission resident who declined to give her name. “I saw it while walking by yesterday. Maybe it would be different if I had an appointment.”

She passed the time by singing to Spanish music she played aloud on her phone. Though she doubted she was infected, news of a rising surge in the Mission prompted her to go. “I don’t mind. It’s a good service that they’re doing for the community,” she continued.  

Mission Mental Health Clinic on 2712 Mission St. runs the site. It moved Dec. 7 from the original location, at 3850 17th St. in the Castro, (where renovations are underway) to the current Bartlett Street garage space. It is one of six community clinics that are testing in the neighborhoods and, unlike the pop-up clinics, they are fixed sites.

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Carlos Vargas, a Glen Park resident, amused himself on his phone, laughing loudly on occasion. He happened upon the site, too, so he didn’t mind the wait.  

“I have nothing to do. I don’t think anyone has much to do,” Vargas said. His coworker at a San Francisco restaurant tested positive three weeks ago, and Vargas kept forgetting to schedule a test. Finding this was “great and cool.”

In fact, like Vargas, quite a few people interviewed at Bartlett had been exposed to someone infected with the virus, or exposed to someone that had been showing symptoms. 

Another Mission denizen, Victoria Serpa, arrived with her tight-lipped father to the line. They found the site online as well the same morning as their test. Serpa’s uncle had tested positive and potentially exposed her father and herself. 

“My dad is high-risk,” she said. This would be Serpa’s first test and she was nervous, but the process has been easy so far. “It’s been about 10 minutes [in line],” she said. 

Another middle-aged man had said he spent half an hour with his son, and later learned his son was infected. These stories are likely repeated elsewhere in the city, where the surge has been among the worst since the pandemic’s start. 

At present, the city is experiencing one of its worst surges and reporting 237 new cases a day. In total, there’s been 19,183 cases and 172 deaths in San Francisco. 

The clinics have successfully attracted more Latinx and vulnerable residents than the city’s larger sites. In October and November, the positivity rate at the fixed sites was 6.3 percent overall and 10 percent for Latinx locals. That compares to an overall positivity rate of only 1.2 percent at the Embarcadero (3 percent for Latinx).

Of the city’s total tests during those two months, 68 percent were done at the Embarcadero site, where 14 percent of the testers were Latinx; 9.5 percent were done at the clinics where 29 percent of the testers were Latinx.

“It’s been very real to me all along. My friend in New York died from it,” said Mission resident Zoe Mullery. Her daughter had been experiencing a runny nose, a sore throat and fatigue — Mullery said that, knowing her daughter, this could also just be an allergic reaction to the family’s new Christmas tree —  but, with the rise in cases, they wanted to be sure. 

Her daughter scheduled a test easily at Kaiser Permanente since she was symptomatic, but a mix-up with scheduling forbade Mullery to test that afternoon. Luckily, she remembered that a friend who “keeps up to date” on covid testing sites told her about the site at Bartlett.  

“The surge is everywhere, and I am trying to be proactive,” Mullery said. 

The site offers 150 tests a day, but it is unclear how many it has administered so far. This will be updated if and when the Department of Public Health supplies that information.

The woman who had declined to state her name suggested more outreach for this site could be done through the Spanish radio or other media, as well as flyers. She said, “I don’t think many people know about it, since it’s behind the Mission [Mental Health] Center.”

Others interviewed by Mission Local found out through a friend, found it online, or walked by it. 

Overall, the residents agree that low-barrier, walk-up testing like this is much needed in the community. 

“The Mission testing is amazing,” Mullery said. 

read more stories of residents in the pandemic:

Annika Hom

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...

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