You can’t get a walk-in test, and they’ll only take people referred by a doctor, but the temporarily shuttered Castro-Mission Health Center on 17th Street has been triaged into a COVID-19 testing center.

The eerie scenes of Kaiser's drive-through coronavirus testing tents bring a sigh of relief, despite the apocalyptic-looking hazmat suits and yellow barricade tape, because they signal that the Bay Area is finally able to test for the virus, even on a way-behind-schedule and incredibly limited basis. And the tide may be turning on testing for COVID-19 (albeit with a long, long way to go) as Hoodline brings us the news that the SF Department of Public Health has opened a new coronavirus testing center at the shuttered Castro-Mission Health Center on 17th Street near Sanchez, which had been temporarily moved to Zuckerberg General Hospital last summer so improvements could be made to the building.

Hoodline reports receiving an email from a tipster, which SFist has independently confirmed.

“While we are awaiting the start of construction for the remodel of Castro-Mission Health Center, the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) has determined to use the space to help the City better respond to coronavirus and to reduce its spread in the community,” the DPH said in an email.

And we have to stress that you absolutely have to have a doctor’s referral to get one of these hard-to-come-by tests, and there are no walk-in appointments.  

“This is a referral-only service for patients who are San Francisco residents,” the center says in a release. “They must have an appointment and have been screened by their health care provider for COVID-19 (the disease caused by the new coronavirus) before being directed to the clinic. The clinic site is not being used for drop-in appointment testing.”

And your healthcare provider can only send you if you meet some pretty strict criteria. Per the DPH’s Population Health Division latest update, the COVID-19 test referral will only be given to patients who meet the criteria of:

1. Hospitalized patients with pneumonia/ARDS and no etiology identified

2. Fever OR respiratory symptoms in a close contact of a patient with lab-confirmed COVID-19 within 14 days of symptom onset

The center has also gone to lengths to make sure the neighborhood stays safe. “The Health Department is taking strict precautions to ensure safety for patients, staff and the Castro-Mission Health Center neighborhood,” the release says. “Testing began on March 6, and seven patients had been tested by the end of day Monday. There is no heightened danger of exposure for residents of the neighborhood.”

They’re also requiring that “all patients are masked upon arrival to the clinic,” but noting that patients gets results within 48 hours.

Surely a large number of people experiencing symptoms and worried are just experiencing the flu, allergies, or a cold. The CDC does have a solid Coronavirus, Cold, Flu, or Allergies? Interpretive infographic, and if you haven’t had your flu shots yet, the SF DPH also has a list of free and reduced cost flu shot locations.

Related: San Francisco Reports 4 New COVID-19 Cases, 3 From Community Spread [SFist]

Image: Google Street View