HOMEY, Faith in Action, and several other community organizations and city workers tested more than 200 people for Covid-19 on 18th Street on Saturday morning in an effort to expand testing to the southern Mission, home to many low-income Latino families.
The testing tents between Capp and Mission streets ran in conjunction with HOMEY’s weekend food distribution event, where 500 bags of food were distributed, and some in the line for those bags were also able to get tested.
Tests aren’t easy to come by, said many of those waiting in line — especially those with such a low barrier to entry: free, open to all, and no appointment needed.
The coalition of local community groups that coordinated the event plans to host additional testing days at the same location on Feb. 13 and Feb. 27.
Access to testing is especially important for Latinx residents of the city, who have been hardest hit by Covid-19, representing 15 percent of the population but 42 to 50 percent of all Covid cases over the last year. While the city’s positive test rate is now 3.4 percent, the Latinx positivity rate is 11.8 percent.
And in the census tracts around 18th St. and Mission, the estimated cases per 10,000 residents range from about 100 up to 170, outpacing the city’s average of 86 cases per 10,000.
Though the coalition had set a goal of testing 500, HOMEY Executive Director Roberto Alfaro said the turnout of over 200 had still been decently strong for the site’s first day. He hopes to build on the day’s momentum to hit that 500-test target when the coalition hosts another testing event.
Added Jon Jacobo, the health committee chair of the Latino Task Force, which helped coordinate the testing. “Consistency is key. The more we’re here, the more people will know they can trust us, and the more they’ll show up.”
The group certainly has the manpower to do so. Over 60 people volunteered to help with the food distribution and testing, with many pledged to return for future weekends. Over 15 groups in total were involved in putting together the event.
“Every department showed up, Hilary Ronen showed up, even the fire department showed up,” Alfaro joked. (Just 20 minutes into the day, a fire truck responded to a call on the street where testing was taking place, forcing the organizers to move lines of people and supplies to the left of the street.)
In addition to hosting the testing at the same time as the food distribution, the coalition took additional steps to encourage people who wouldn’t normally get tested to step in line for a nasal swab. And, some did. The coalition is also offering follow-up support for those who test positive in the form of food delivery and people checking in.
“Our philosophy is, bringing testing to a neighborhood — low-income, disadvantaged, forgotten neighborhoods — without resources, is absolutely meaningless,” said Jacobo.
Lorena Melgarejo, the executive director of Faith in Action Bay Area, said the offer to provide support for those who test positive is critical, as it removes the fear that a positive test will mean not being able to provide for yourself or your family.
“We have children, we have families, and if your kid is hungry, you’re going to go out,” she said. “But people know if they get tested with us, they’re going to be taken care of if they test positive.”
Though the site’s test results and demographics data will not be available for a few more days, the majority of people Mission Local interviewed said they were Latino.
Many who got tested said they chose to do so because of the site’s convenience. This included residents who decided to get tested on a whim as they walked by. And some others who had recent exposures said they couldn’t find testing sites where they could get tested on a Saturday.
For Rosa Mendieta, getting tested is a requirement for her job. She came to the Mission from East Bay to get tested.
“It’s accessible, and it’s free,” she said in Spanish. “Other sites don’t have openings for five days.”
The food distribution event also helped direct some foot traffic to the testing site. Merlina Meneses was already in search of a covid test when she entered the food distribution line. She found what all the hubbub on 18th St. was about from another person waiting for food.
Once she got her black bag of groceries, she walked down the block to get in line for a test. “I’d rather get tested here than CVS,” she said.