Palo Alto's first-ever pop-up COVID-19 testing site inside the lobby of City Hall received a constant influx of patients on Tuesday. A line wrapped around the building, where some people waited more than an hour and a half for the chance to find out if they have the coronavirus, and by the end of the day, nurses had tested close to 500 patients.
Many had attended one of the numerous recent protests in the Bay Area, which drew crowds of between 200 to 10,000 people.
"We went to the protest in San Francisco, last Wednesday," said Andrew Mackenzie, who came with his daughter to get tested. "We just want to make sure we're not asymptomatic."
Others wanted to be safe around their grandparents.
"I've been with my grandparents for a while and we had to have some nurses coming in and out," Benner Mullin, 20, said. "My family wanted to make sure (the nurses) were clean, and (I wanted to) get tested right here."
All were hoping to be reassured that they did not have the coronavirus.
"It's the not-knowing that gives me more anxiety," said Jill Ta, 54, a Midtown resident who waited two hours to get tested and returned to the site so her daughter Maddie can also receive a test. "At least if it's positive, then we know we need to further self-isolate."
The pop-up testing site is the first one in Palo Alto run by the county. Since the pandemic began, 82 city residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the county — a rate of 122 people per 100,000.
The testing site will be open through Friday.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors looking to get tested waited in line outside, 6 feet apart, Tuesday and were greeted by a city staff member who provided hand sanitizer, a pen and a clipboard with a consent and demographics information form.
Besides an email, home address and a phone number, which are used to send test results, most of the requested demographics information such as gender, race/ethnicity and emergency contact information is optional, according to Frank Robina, a city community service staff member.
The consent form gives several notices to patients: testing is free (insurance is not required, but if patients have health insurance their provider may be billed), how they will be contacted for the results (a phone call if the result is positive, an email or letter if the result is negative), transfer of rights to authorize payment to Santa Clara County through available insurance or health plan benefits (again, only if a patient has insurance), and acknowledgement of receiving the county Health System's "Notice of Privacy Practices."
Wait times varied throughout the day Tuesday. The site is equipped to test eight patients at a time.
According to Camille Johnson, the city's human resources technician, visitors stood in line up to an hour and a half at the beginning of the day, 45 minutes to one hour by the afternoon and 30 minutes or less near the end of the day. (By 3:30 p.m., the wait time was under 10 minutes; however, patients were soon no longer accepted and told to come back tomorrow.)
"The line does cut off at about 3:30 to 3:40 p.m. so that we can hit our 4 p.m. mark," Johnson said.
When patients enter the lobby, they are directed to a station with a city staff member who enters their information into a computer system.
Patients then sit down at a separate station to get tested by a nurse fully armored in protective gear: a face shield, mask, gloves and gown. Most, if not all the nurses are contracted, travelling nurses with Aya Healthcare, a travel nursing agency. Many have come from across the country — Philadelphia, Delaware and Kansas, to name a few cities — to staff testing sites in California.
"I've been here since the beginning of May," said Jessica Habersham, a licensed practical nurse from Georgia, who paid for a flight to California out-of-pocket and is staying at an Airbnb for the duration of her contract. "I love it here."
Most nurses won't know exactly when they will go back, she said.
Nurses collect specimens from each nostril with a dauntingly elongated cotton swab; however, the swab isn't inserted deep into the nasal cavity and the process itself takes only around 20 seconds.
"It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," said Maddie Ta, 17, a Gunn High School student who will be seeing her grandparents in southern California this weekend if her results come back negative.
Swabs are placed in a tube that contains a reagent, which preserves the collected specimen. Tests will then be processed at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center's laboratories.
The testing site is located at 250 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, and will be available through Friday, June 19. Hours of operation are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.