Chaos and exclusion at COVID-19 testing in Redwood City

COVID-19 tests
Cars line up on Bay Rd for people to take COVID-19 tests. The once quick and easy process is now time-consuming and bureaucratic.
Photo: Manuel Ortiz.

REDWOOD CITY? Despite the rapid increase in new infections of the Omicron variant, particularly around the holiday season, it is unwise that in San Mateo County it has become so chaotic and complicated to get tested for COVID-19.

On Bay Rd, at 2685, in both directions, there is a long line of cars with people waiting to get a COVID-19 test.

It is a cloudy and rainy afternoon. I join one of the two lines. After 20 minutes of immobility, I turn off the car and turn on the kindle to read while I wait.

I am fully vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) and follow health safety guidelines such as the use of masks. However, I used to get tested on an ongoing basis because my job involves contact with a wide variety of people.

I would do these tests at the "mural" at North Fair Oaks on the weekends. It was a quick and easy process: I would walk in, walk in without an appointment, and in less than 20 minutes I was ready to go. San Mateo County was doing well.

Now, I've been waiting (stopwatch in hand) for an hour and 17 minutes in the long line of cars and I've barely moved about 50 feet. Fortunately, my kindle reading is enjoyable and it's my day off, which gives me the patience of a zen monk. 

But I guess the driver in front of me is not in the same condition. Near the end of the hour and 40 minute wait, about 98 feet away from the entrance to the parking lot, where there is another line to take the test, the car begins to make sudden maneuvers to get out of the line and when it does, it shoots out of the line.

Finally, ten minutes before the two-hour wait, I drive my car to 2685 Bay Street. At the entrance to the parking lot, a very kind young woman tells me that, without an appointment, there are no more tests at this time.

COVID-19 tests
Cars line up on Bay Rd for people to take COVID-19 tests. The once quick and easy process is now time-consuming and bureaucratic.
Photo: Manuel Ortiz

Why don't they announce that without appointments there is no more proof," I ask with the same gentleness that she has.

- Yes, I'm sorry, it's just that there's not enough evidence.

And can you get there on foot?

He says yes, but obviously, even though we're in North Fair Oaks, it's a difficult place for pedestrians, plus it's far from the Latino neighborhoods. I thank him, we smile at each other, and I leave.

Paradoxically, after we learned that the omicron variant had entered California through San Francisco, and that it was highly contagious, San Mateo County decided to scale back COVID-19 testing sites and make the process as bureaucratic and exclusionary, if not more so, than in the early days of the pandemic.

In addition to being confusing and time-consuming, San Mateo County's current COVID-19 testing process in Redwood City excludes the most disadvantaged, including a large portion of the Latino community.

What about the people - many Latinas - who don't have a car or the technological tools to make appointments online? What about those who can't afford to waste so many hours waiting because it means giving up work and, therefore, losing the little income they receive?

The pandemic is not over, and while immunization rates are fortunately high in our county - thanks in part to valuable community work - we know that early detection of the virus is vitally important to prevent transmission.

San Mateo County, as we have noted in P360P, has done an exemplary job in terms of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. But now, faced with the challenge of the new omicron variant, it underestimates the risks, acts clumsily, and excludes a portion of our Latino community.

Cars line up on Bay Rd for people to take COVID-19 tests. The once quick and easy process is now time-consuming and bureaucratic.
Photo: Manuel Ortiz

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