San Francisco COVID-19 testing sites are cutting back their hours at the worst possible time, as the Department of Public Health announces reduced hours at four of the city's largest mass-testing sites.
Update (Jan 10, 4:18 p.m.): All four testing sites described in this post are now completely shut down, as are those at 20 Norton Street and the Bayview Opera House. SF DPH sys in a tweet that "We will provide updates as we learn more and have next steps. For a list of other testing sites in SF, visit http://sf.gov/gettested."
UPDATE: Due to a nationwide computer issue experienced by our COVID-19 testing vendor @Color, 6 testing sites will close today: Alemany, SOMA (7th/Brannan), SEHC, 20 Norton, Ella Hill Hutch, and Bayview Opera House. Please do not go to these sites for testing at this time. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/SyoT3DTo07— SFDPH (@SF_DPH) January 10, 2022
SFist reported last Tuesday that San Francisco COVID-19 testing was in a state of meltdown, with hours-long lines stretching multiple city blocks, appointment sites showing no availability, and test results taking as long as four to six days to come back. So with the Omicron variant surging as schools return from holiday vacations and scam COVID testing sites popping up across the city, surely the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) is calling in the cavalry and marshalling every available resource to bolster testing capacity as much as possible, right?
On Monday, some SFDPH-affiliated sites will temporarily reduce testing hours due to challenges beyond our control. Please check your health system first for testing. Do not go to the ER for tests. SF testing sites with updated hours are at: https://t.co/BpmMAW3Jxy— SFDPH (@SF_DPH) January 9, 2022
Not exactly. The DPH tweeted Sunday morning that some of their COVID testing sites “will temporarily reduce testing hours due to challenges beyond our control.” What are these challenges? The tweet does not say. But KGO reports the cutback is “due to staffing shortages,” and a press release from the DPH says the shortened hours are being enacted because of “COVID-related staffing shortages and because of an increase in processing times for test results.”
Even with some sites temporarily reducing hours, we have stretched our testing capacity in recent weeks to an all-time high, with some sites more than tripling capacity! Been exposed? Go to 1) your health provider or 2) https://t.co/BpmMAW3Jxy— SFDPH (@SF_DPH) January 9, 2022
It is similarly unhelpful that the DPH has not tweeted publicly which sites are having hours cut back, or what those new hours are. But the press release does have this information, and while it emphasizes that “we anticipate this to be [a] temporary period of time,” there’s no timeline given for when the hours will go back to normal.
These are the four affected city-run sites, and their temporary new hours: (Note: These sites are all now closed indefinitely.)
- Ella Hill Hutch (1050 McAllister St.) a “reduction of three hours in the afternoon. (New hours: 8am-2pm)”
- Southeast Health Center (2401 Keith St.) a “reduction of three hours in the morning on Monday only. (Monday only: 11am-5pm; then return to 8am-5pm on Tuesday)”
- Alemany Farmers Market (100 Alemany Boulevard), a “reduction of two hours in the evening. (New hours: 8am-6pm)”
- SOMA (7th St. and Brannan St.), a “reduction of three hours in the morning beginning Tuesday. (New hours: 12pm-6pm)”
The San Francisco Department of Public Health announced Sunday that some of their affiliated sites will have to temporarily reduce their testing hours due to challenges beyond their control. https://t.co/98HNph8HJ1— NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea) January 10, 2022
Supervisor Matt Haney gave NBC Bay Area more detail about what’s happening behind the scenes with the current COVID testing clusterfuck.
“Unfortunately, what is happening as I understand it is that our testing providers are suffering from the same challenges that other people are having. Businesses, schools, hospitals,” Haney told the station. “And that they had a bunch of people call in sick and they don’t have adequate staff themselves to be able to staff the testing sites.”
We should note that DPH is saying they’re operating well over capacity right now, and claims in their release that “Some sites have been operating at 500-900% above capacity levels before this surge.”
This probably will all sort itself out over the next week or two, as SFUSD starts distributing more tests, and the Biden administration’s free home COVID tests start hitting households. This is a national problem, not just a San Francisco thing.
But anyone could have seen this coming in mid- to late December. Yes, both the state and the feds seem unprepared. But no one’s really accusing Mayor Breed or San Francisco’s public health leaders of stepping up particularly hard at the moment, and they seem to be erring on the side of communicating less instead of communicating more. And in that sense, right now they are failing the COVID test.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist