For the first time, Santa Clara County is opening a pop-up site in Palo Alto for free COVID-19 nasal swab tests at City Hall for four days, starting this Tuesday.
The site is open to anyone, regardless of age, city of residence or immigration status. Those seeking a test don't need an appointment, doctor's note or health insurance. Tests will be provided at the lobby of City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave., from June 16 to June 19 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
"It's great to bring COVID-19 testing to the downtown area, so employees working in the area and our regional community at-large can get access to testing," Mayor Adrian Fine said in a press release on Monday.
The Palo Alto location will not be a drive-thru site. Patients will wait in line for a nurse to administer the nasal swab test, where specimens will be collected from each nostril, according to Santa Clara County Deputy Public Health Information Officer Ricardo Romero-Morales.
There is no defined limit to the total number of nasal-swab tests the site can provide, but the county's target goal is to perform around 500 tests per day in Palo Alto, according to Ky Le, director of Santa Clara County's Office of Supportive Housing.
The pop-up is mainly geared towards asymptomatic individuals — those who do not show any symptoms of the coronavirus. People who do have symptoms should get tested by contacting their medical provider, Le said.
Tests will be administered and processed by the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center staff. Each test should take no more than five minutes, Le said.
Patients can choose to receive their results by phone or email, according to the June 15 city press release. Anyone who tests positive will find out by phone within 48 hours of taking a test and receive instructions on next steps.
"We won’t be sharing personal information," Romero-Morales said. "This is considered personal health information."
The Palo Alto location will be one of many temporary sites throughout Santa Clara County, providing tests in a specific community on a need-by-need basis. The four-day period should be sufficient to cover people who need tests in Palo Alto, Le said, but it's possible that "community-based teams" setting up the sites and delivering tests will return if there is a demand and more local residents need to be tested.
These sites will also help county officials determine where tests may be needed in surrounding communities. For example, if many people from San Jose are coming to the Palo Alto location, setting up a site in San Jose will be considered, Le said.
A temporary site in Palo Alto is especially timely considering the city recently hosted one of the largest mass gatherings of local residents since the shelter-in-place order began in March. On June 6, thousands of protesters, many of whom donned masks, marched against police brutality and systemic racism in reaction to the death of George Floyd while in police custody. But Le said the main reason for the site is simply to provide easy access to testing everywhere.
"I don't think it has to do with Palo Alto's protest per se," Le said. "I do think we want to provide more accessible and easy testing everywhere, especially since the protests."
Increasing testing capacity in the county continues to be a point of focus for local health officials. On Wednesday, a new county health order went into effect, mandating all major health care systems and clinics in the area to provide COVID-19 tests to three high-risk groups.
Health care systems such as the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Stanford Health Care are now required to test patients who show symptoms of COVID-19, have been exposed to the virus or are at high-risk of exposure because they are in frequent contact with the public, such as grocery workers, or recently attended a mass gathering of more than 100 people in the past two weeks.
"With more and more people going back to work and getting out into the community, it's particularly important that folks know whether or not they are virus free," Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian said in a June 15 statement. "And frankly, our County's Public Health Officer can't make good decisions for the entire county if we don't have good data from throughout the entire county.
Palo Alto City Councilwoman Liz Kniss, a retired nurse, found the site to be a "great value" to workers in the city, she said in the release. She added that "having widespread testing is a key first step to helping the community regain peace of mind and return to a sense of normalcy."
As of Sunday, county data showed 102,848 patients in the county have been tested so far, with a positivity rate of 3.12%.
A new COVID-19 test site that will be open on Mondays through Thursdays in Mountain View was set to open on June 15. For the first week, the site will only provide tests for first responders, health care providers and essential workers. Starting the week of Monday, June 22, the clinic will provide tests for all. More information on the test site can be found here.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.