Sacramento announces free coronavirus drive-through testing for all, no symptoms required
Sacramento Bee - May 6, 2020

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Sacramento County health officers on Wednesday announced the private drive-through coronavirus testing site at Cal Expo is now accepting all comers for free tests, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.

The site, operated by the county along with the Verily research company, has been conducting appointment-only tests at the Expo grounds for six weeks for Sacramento County residents age 18 or older.

Previously, the site only accepted people with mild symptoms. Now the site will accept people who are symptom-free.

People who want to take a test at the site still must fill out a form at the Verily website and obtain an appointment time. As of Wednesday afternoon, appointment bookings were two days out at the Sacramento site. That site is open Monday through Friday. Monday appointments can be made after 7 p.m. on the preceding Friday.

Participants remain in their cars. A healthcare employee takes a swab sample from the person’s nose. The process takes about 10 minutes.

Numerous Sacramento residents have complained that the system will not give them an appointment if they had previously gone on the website and been deemed ineligible based on their symptoms at the time. When asked about this Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Verily said the company is reprogramming the website so that it will no longer automatically reject those applicants.

“We expect that the option to rescreen on our website will be fully available by the end of next week to anyone who has screened before, if they are past the three-day window after their first screen,” spokeswoman Rachel Ford Hutman wrote. “This is being rolled out in phases due to the volume of people who have taken our screener – over 200,000 people (for facilities statewide). For the sake of appointment availability and website stability, this needs to be approached in phases.”

Verily sends the swabs to a lab and those who tested are informed within five days of the results. As of this week, some were receiving emails the next day with their results.

The tests notably are limited to determining whether the person is currently infected with the coronavirus. The test does not indicate whether a person was previously infected.

The County of Sacramento, in conjunction with Verily, which is conducting epidemiological research, have been testing several hundred people a day at the Cal Expo site and at several other sites around California in conjunction with public health officials.

Notably, as the number of new cases in Sacramento has shrunk, the Cal Expo testing site has been working at less than capacity. That has prompted the site to lower the eligibility threshold.

County officials say the site is not intended for people with severe COVID-19 symptoms, such as severe cough, severe shortness of breath, severe fever, or other symptoms that may need immediate medical care.

The Verily site recently saw a reduction in the number of people making and showing up for appointments.

Up to 350 people can be processed every day, but on average, only about 250 people actually wer driving up recently, said Erica Havey, a registered nurse with Sacramento County who’s been collecting samples at Cal Expo. That’s even with the county and Verily overbooking by about 30 percent.

“We’re essentially wasting this precious commodity that we have,” said county spokeswoman Janna Haynes. “The more people that need to be tested that can come through here the better.”

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