Preliminary Testing Shows Coronavirus Surge in San Francisco Mission District

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Healthcare worker Jaden Anderson tests a child for COVID-19 at a Unidos En Salud testing site on 24th and Mission Streets in San Francisco on Nov. 30, 2020. Unidos en Salud (United in Health) is a collaboration by UCSF and the Latino Task Force to help vulnerable populations through COVID-19.
Health care worker Jaden Anderson tests a child for COVID-19 at a Unidos En Salud testing site on 24th and Mission streets in San Francisco on Nov. 30, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Health workers are wrapping up testing at four temporary sites in San Francisco neighborhoods hard hit by COVID-19, and preliminary results in at least one location show a marked increase in test positivity rates during the coronavirus surge in the city, state, and nation.

Doctors, nurses and volunteers fanned out to test sites in the Mission, Bayview, Tenderloin and Excelsior neighborhoods for a handful of days before and after Thanksgiving, testing more than 6,800 people. The testing is part of a health initiative called Unidos en Salud, a partnership between UCSF, the community organization Latino Task Force, the City and County of San Francisco, and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub.

The group has offered pop-up testing every few months since the start of the pandemic, running a weekly test site in the Mission on Thursdays.

Unidos en Salud co-founder and UCSF infectious disease expert Dr. Diane Havlir says she was already worried about the high positivity rates when she saw them go even higher after Thanksgiving.

"At the Mission test site, post-Thanksgiving test positivity seems to be in the 9-10% range," Havlir wrote in an email. "The increase from 6% before the holiday likely reflects the serious and rapidly increasing trajectory in the city overall."

The numbers represent those who voluntarily took tests and are not representative of the Mission or the city as a whole, Havlir said.

Still, the numbers are high.

"(P)reliminary data suggest that the Latinx community, low-income individuals and front-line workers living in crowded households continue to be disproportionately affected," she said.

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Rapid Test Used for Quicker Results

In this recent round of testing, each resident was given both a rapid and standard PCR test.

The results from the rapid test, Abbott's BinaxNOW, are available in 15 minutes. The test detects high levels of the virus, an indication that someone is particularly infectious. People who show up positive on the rapid test may spread the virus more easily and should isolate as soon as possible. The rapid tests sometimes produce false negatives in those with a smaller viral load, so the PCR test is also given.

For those who test positive, a "community wellness team member" from Unidos en Salud works to connect them with free food and cleaning supplies, as well as a hotel room where they can quarantine. The case worker may also refer them to San Francisco's Right to Recover program, which provides cash assistance for people without access to paid sick leave, unemployment benefits or other public benefits.