Fliberto, a volunteer with Unidos, volunteered to be photographed as he got tested in January 2021. It was one swab, two nostrils and took seconds. Photo by Lydia Chávez, Jan. 10, 2021.

Note Jan. 12, 2021: This story will be updated with how many tests were administered and the percent of Latinx testers each day at the bottom if information is available.

The first day of the Covid-19 rapid-test-only campaign kicked off Sunday, and while it is unclear how many of the 600 tests were positive, some who participated get their results back in as little as 40 minutes, according to the campaign organizers. 

If the level of positivity remains similar to earlier campaigns that used the rapid test alongside the conventional PCR test, some 30 to 40 people a day will likely have positive tests and be able to quarantine on the same day.

The tests are intended for people without insurance, and for undocumented people or essential workers, organizers said. On Sunday, the first day, about 75 percent of people tested were Latinx, preliminary numbers showed.

The rapid BinaxNow test allows researchers to notify covid-positive residents within two hours, instead of the two days the conventional PCR tests have required in earlier testing campaigns, according to the medical experts running the site. 

A little after 9 a.m. on the opening day for the Binax rapid test campaign, the line stretches from the 24th St. Mission BART Plaza down the block past Lilac St. Photo by Annika Hom on Jan. 10, 2021.

That’s good news for residents like Emilio Bueso, who got exposed to the virus from living in the same household as his infected cousin and six other relatives. After experiencing a severe fever, Bueso’s cousin took the PCR test, and learned he was positive two days later. 

“Two hours is so much better, you know, so much faster,” said Bueso, who learned about the site on the Spanish news. 

When people did test positive, the rapid test results triggered an immediate follow-up process that allows someone to quarantine on the same day that the test is taken.

Diane Jones, a former UCSF HIV nurse and key team member of the testing and research campaigns known as Unidos en Salud (United in Health), said positive patients are notified by Unidos volunteers only a couple of hours after their results come in and asked to isolate themselves.

“The need is urgent,” for a vaccine and “low-barrier” access.

Dr. Diane Havlir, the Chief of UCSF’s Division of HIV/AIDS, Infectious Disease, and Global Medicine

Then the “Disclosure Team” refers the patient to Isolation and Quarantine hotels, Right to Recover funds, Community Wellness Team services, quarantine advice and supplies, like food and diapers. 

This will be especially useful for another part of the study, which aims to take at-home testing to household members of infected patients, said UCSF researcher Dr. Carina Marquez. Advice and education about isolation can take an hour on these visits, as families figure out who should go to quarantine hotels. 

“Learning who is immediately positive or negative in the household helps you strategize,” Marquez said. “If a child is sleeping in the same bed as you, it’s hard to arrange the house into a safe situation.”

Marquez’s team began offering at-home testing for a covid-positive resident’s household during the pre- and post-Thanksgiving testing effort. She said they found more people seeing the benefits of using the city’s hotel rooms to keep their families safe. 

Dr. Diane Havlir, the Chief of UCSF’s Division of HIV/AIDS, Infectious Disease, and Global Medicine, and the lead researcher in the Unidos campaigns, felt confident about the Binax test after using it for six days during the Health Holiday campaigns before and after Thanksgiving, and in an earlier trial at 16th Street and Mission streets. 

A successful trial during these had some people take both PCR and rapid tests to test efficacy, and researchers found there were no false negatives and “essentially no false positives.”

Jones said the rapid testing could be useful when deciding policies or next steps in reopening the city. PCR tests, which are more sensitive and for much of the pandemic deemed the “gold standard” of covid testing, may show a positive if it picks up enough “dead virus.” This means some people might unnecessarily isolate for 10 days — and that can make a big difference for entering school or going back to work. 

“You’re forcing a fair number of people to isolate, which is a sledgehammer approach,” Jones said. “If you’re [using PCR] testing in schools, you might knock out an entire pod of teachers and kids who may be past infection.”

As residents waited in line, volunteers approached them to fill out a QR code survey with questions about recent holiday and travel habits. Post-Thanksgiving covid testing showed 10 percent covid positivity, compared to 6 percent before Thanksgiving. 

Diana Mendez, a Portola resident, recently returned from a trip to Mexico City to be with her husband’s in-laws for the holidays. She said the “trip wasn’t leisure, just to see family in the middle of nowhere” and she felt no symptoms, but wanted to make sure. She has been quarantining since she returned, in light of the local travel order.

Today and throughout the three weeks of rapid testing at the 24th Street BART Plaza, researchers and outreach workers are surveying participants on their attitudes toward the vaccine and answering questions about the vaccine that residents have.

 “The need is urgent,” for a vaccine and for “low-barrier” access, said Havlir, who declined to give any information on when their testing efforts might pivot to vaccinating community residents.

The vaccine is currently reserved for high-risk populations in long-term care facilities and health care workers, but will eventually be widely disseminated and the Unidos project plans to be part of the plan. 

Jon Jacobo, the head of the Latino Task Force’s Health Committee, said the city appeared open to having the Unidos team participate in the vaccination process. “What I appreciate is Grant [ Colfax, the director of Public Health] seems very willing to [collaborate].” 

wonder who’s on the list for vaccines? Read:

The 24th Street BART Station would be a difficult site for vaccinating residents because the vaccines require people to remain for 15 to 20 minutes to see if they have any serious reactions. However, the Unidos team has used Garfield Park in the past, and John O’Connell High School’s field might also offer enough space. 

Mercedes and Oscar Hernandezwith their children, Emilio, who is in kindergarten, Sophia, who is in 7th Grade, and Esperanza, who is in fourth grade. Photo by Lydia Chávez, Jan. 10, 2021.

Mercedes Hernandez, a contact tracer who attended the testing campaign with her husband, Oscar, and their three kids and dog, said,  “We believe it and plan on taking it as soon as its available,” said. 

The fast results are also a relief for the Hernandezes. All three children – Sophia, 12, Esperanza, 10, and Emilio, 5 — needed to get tested for school, which started last week. The girls attend Hamlin and Emilio continues kindergarten at Presidio Hills elementary. 

“It’s very important. You need to know as soon as possible,” Hernandez said. “For my parents in Mexico, you might take a week to hear back. You might have it again by then.”

The testing and research campaign will run for three weeks on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays at the 24th Street and Mission BART Plaza, from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Dr. Diane Havlir, Jon Jacobo, Susana Rojas, and Diane Jones look at a small book of photographs that Mike Kai Chen prepared for them. Photo by Lydia Chávez, Jan. 10, 2021.
DateTests Administered% of Latinx testers
Source: Diane Jones. Last updated Jan. 19, 2021.

Lydia Chávez contributed to this report.

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REPORTER. 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 on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Check cdc website does tests have only ,50 percent accuracy. Don’t take the chance of thinking you negative and spread covid.

  2. FINALLY we’re seeing testing as a gateway to quarantine and contact tracing.

    Given the hits they’ve been made to take due to inadequate government and nonprofit response, we need to see Latinx in the Mission declared a priority population for vaccination.