The San Francisco Department of Public Health is changing the way appointments are made at its two free COVID testing sites on the Embarcadero and at the Alemany farmers' market site, in an effort to make it less convenient for people who are at the lowest risk for contracting the disease.
Dr. Jonathan Fuchs, who is leading the city's testing efforts, tells Mission Local that the city is "really trying to focus these resources for people who are symptomatic and who are close to known positives, and for essential workers." With that in mind, instead of the current two-week lead times for testing appointments that have been filling up fast with San Franciscans looking to take precautions in order to gather or travel for holidays — whom health officials are referring to as "the worried wealthy" — there will be appointments available within about three days going forward.
Residents with health insurance and those without symptoms are asked to seek testing through their regular healthcare provider, and to stop burdening the free-testing system as the surge continues. Sutter Health is offering appointment-free testing at its urgent-care clinics, and One Medical is offering easy testing options as well, for instance.
The city recently relocated one of its main free CityTest SF sites from SoMa, where infection rates have been consistently low, to the Bernal/Portola site where the Alemany Farmers' Market happens on weekends, near where infection rates have been highest. SF's Latinx residents continue to account for about 45% of COVID-positive cases in the city, but the city says that of the 160,000 people tested at the city's two testing sites in October and November, only 18% were Latinx.
At the newer Alemany site, nearly 22% of tests are given to Latinx residents. Test positivity rates there in the last half of November were 3.6% overall, and 6.4% among Latinx residents.
The Alemany site only tests people four and a half out of seven days a week, while at the Embarcadero site, where people are largely asymptomatic and positivity is low, testing goes on seven days a week, and 1,700 tests are administered daily.
Santiago Lerma, a legislative aide to District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, tells Mission Local that they are aware of the issue and there should be "testing sites all over the place" in the parts of the city where the most positive cases have appeared.
Monica Gandhi, the medical director of the HIV Clinic, Ward 86, at UCSF tells Mission Local that the city's testing response "has definitely favored the privileged" so far.
UCSF has tried to supplement the city's testing efforts with pop-up testing drives like the one it recently did before and after the Thanksgiving holiday at the 24th & Mission BART station.