The big red garage door on Bartlett near 23rd Street opened today, revealing a new community testing site.
“We’re trying to open this afternoon, but we are waiting for the swabber to arrive,” said Eva Corral, a bilingual medical assistant with the Department of Public Health.
By late morning, the swabber had arrived and the site was ready to test — but there was no one waiting to get tested at 219 Bartlett St., located on the backside of the Mission Mental Health Clinic at 2712 Mission St.
“Can you tell me where it is? Because I am walking up and down Bartlett and I can’t find it,” said Jon Jacobo, who is on the health committee of the Latino Task Force and has been involved in every testing campaign in the Mission since April. The Department of Public Health had informed him a testing site would open on Valencia Street, but there “wasn’t the best communication as to when and where it would launch.”
The coronavirus testing site will be open Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 11 a.m. and from 1:30 to 4 p.m. It’s unclear how long this site will stay open, but it will have the capacity to test 150 people per day.
Jorge Solis, a Health Department nurse who works at the Mission Mental Health Clinic and is the testing site coordinator, said, “we don’t know what the demand will be.”
This Mission testing site opened because the fixed Castro-Mission testing site on 17th Street near Sanchez closed for planned renovations.
Robert Pineda, the interim director of patient access for primary care said, “We are trying to get everyone and anyone to come in to get tested. Ideally, we want to reach at-risk population, Latino, homeless, uninsured … But we will test anybody who wants to be tested.”
A spokesperson for the COVID Command Center who runs this testing site for the DPH says this testing site contributes to DPH’s strategy of “bringing COVID-19 testing to communities that are most impacted by the virus.”
Latinx residents comprise 15 percent of the city’s population, but 47 percent of all covid cases and 23 percent of covid deaths.
The Castro-Mission site was one of six so-called alternative testing sites run by DPH. Recently, these sites have had more luck than the large fixed sites at reaching the Latinx population. The six sites tested 15,323 people in October and November. Of those, 29 percent were Latinx and the positivity rate was 9.96 percent compared to an overall positivity rate of 6.30 percent for all tests at the alternative sites and 3.1 percent for the city, according to DPH.
It’s unclear if the site will attract a strong following, but the demand for neighborhood testing has been high. A recent testing campaign by UCSF and the Latino Task Force at the 24th Street BART station exceeded 500 tests for all three days it ran before and after Thanksgiving. And every Thursday, the Latino Task Force tests at least 600 residents or workers at its once-a-week testing site at 701 Alabama St.
Outreach is key, and the Latino Task Force and UCSF have run massive outreach campaigns to spread awareness about their testing sites.
Small public health clinics such as this one, said Jacobo, “will say they want to do more outreach, but I actually think they don’t want to.” He believes they chose a low-trafficked street like Bartlett to stay under the radar. “They don’t want to blow the spot up, because it does not have a large capacity.”
The Bartlett site is intended for those without insurance or who are patients in the SF Network, a consortium of clinics. People can only get tested once every two weeks.
Solis was unsure what the command center and DPH had in mind for outreach. “They have not shared anything with me,” he said.
The Bartlett site accepts both first-come-first-served clients and those with appointments, which can be made by calling 415-682-1740. For those without appointments, the line will form across the street, in front of Buena Vista Horace Mann School.
Doris, an eligibility worker with DPH who declined to give her last name, said the clinics have been going to different parts of the city since March. But, since this site replaces a fixed clinic, it could remain for an indefinite amount of time.
“We’re trying to reach out to low-income people who don’t have insurance, but others are taking advantage,” of the sites. This has been an issue at many of the testing sites, according to DPH data.
“We have regulars that follow us,” Doris adds.
Among the regulars are people getting out of jail who need a covid test for different programs, nurses working in skilled nursing facilities — generally long term care homes for the elderly — and those who want to get tested before traveling, attending a party or seeing their friends, according to Doris.
“People from the East Bay, South Bay, everyone is coming to get tested because it’s free.”
Jacobo says these are symptoms of macro failures of private insurance to provide easy appointments and quick turnaround times and also the failure of other cities to provide enough low-barrier testing.
Corral and Doris do not know how long they will be working out of the garage on Bartlett Streets as they are “constantly getting new updates.”
Find more information about the site at https://sf.gov/find-out-about-your-covid-19-testing-options under the tab “Neighborhood test sites (limited capacity).”