Mayor Breed announced a testing surge Tuesday morning, but it may be too little too late, as people are standing in line for hours and waiting several days for COVID-19 test results.
It is about time that SF Mayor London Breed returned from her Ron DeSantis-style holiday disappearance, because since she was last seen prior to Christmas Eve, things have gone rather haywire with the Omicron variant surge. So it is encouraging news that on Tuesday morning, Breed held a virtual press conference and announced a massive expansion of COVID testing in the city, according to KPIX.
The good news is that SF Department of Public Health (DPH) testing sites will be “rapidly expanded to more than 25,000 tests a week” capacity, according to the mayor's announcement. The bad news, as KPIX points out, is that “ The tests will arrive in weekly deliveries starting mid-January.”
What we are asking is for people to do their best to avoid catching COVID over the next few weeks during this surge.— London Breed (@LondonBreed) January 4, 2022
Prioritize the activities that are most important to you and avoid those that aren’t necessary and might expose you to COVID.
Breed’s six-tweet “We're in the middle of an Omicron surge in SF” thread ends with the frankly frustrating advice that she’s asking “for people to do their best to avoid catching COVID over the next few weeks during this surge.” That’s little comfort to people standing hundreds deep in line at DPH sites, like the video below taken at 11 a.m. Tuesday morning at the city-run 24th and Capp Street testing site.
God knows how many hundreds of people there were in this line, which stretched six city blocks, and the video above only captures four of the blocks. This is consistent with other news reports of multiple-hours-long waits for a COVID test, as KGO reported Sunday that there were “seven-hour long lines in the East Bay city of Newark.”
And long lines are just the beginning of the troubles with the current state of COVID testing. SFist has not independently confirmed the above report of a six-day turnaround time for results from a Union Square testing site. But NBC Bay Area confirms that there are definite backlogs at testing labs, with the station’s Bob Redell saying “labs are struggling to keep up with this increased demand that we’re seeing, which means that some tests are taking too long to come back in time to be worthwhile.”
KRON-4 reported Monday that a severe “shortage of testing kits has forced several city testing sites to stop taking walk-ins over the last few days.” That station spoke with supervisor Ahsha Safai, who said that “In some places where there are walk-ups and appointments available, or no appointments available, they basically reached capacity and had to turn people away. I think there’s been a major surge in people that need testing and it’s put a strain on the system.”
And even if you do try to make an appointment, a check on the availability of tests at city-run COVID testing sites is likely to give you a big bag of “0 slots available” results for any day in the near future on which you search.
Listen, much like the Omicron surge itself, this severe testing shortage is likely to pass in a few weeks. Safai told KRON-4 that SFUSD will distribute tests to schools and families, but that won’t happen til “at some point later this week.” Breed’s cavalry of more tests is slated to come mid-month, and President Biden’s barrage of 500 million free home testing kits should start arriving then too. The situation is currently a disaster, but it is likely to be straightened out in mid to late January.
And yes, the feds are probably ultimately to blame for the current testing shortage, which certainly extends well beyond San Francisco or the Bay Area. But if you’re a mayor or governor who just took a nice, long two weeks off for the holiday, you frankly picked two bad weeks to disappear. And the next two weeks are going to be a heck of a lot more difficult for everyone because of those holiday vacation leadership voids.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist