Testing kits are scarce and expensive in SF, while testing sites are overwhelmed

These are empty shelves and living on a prayer for community pharmacies and their customers who need Covid-19 rapid test kits for travel, work and school.

At the start of the week, local stores had either a limited supply or empty shelves as officials waited for new orders to arrive. Meanwhile, the queues at the mission’s test sites were long and regular. Over the weekend at the Unidos en Salud / United in Health testing, vaccination and booster site in Capp and 24th Street, people had to be turned away because even after extended hours the weather was account.

In pharmacies, supply was the problem.

“Two weeks ago we got eight cases of BinaxNOW but we sold in two hours,” said a shift manager at Castro and 18th Street Walgreens. By Monday morning the shelves were empty and she was hoping an order would arrive later this week. Ditto at the Walgreens on the 24th and Potrero.

At a Monday morning meeting of the Latino Task Force, Dr Diane Havlir, a professor at UCSF and principal investigator on the Unidos en Salud test and the research campaign now at Capp and 24th Street, reported that the rates of test positivity had never been higher. More than 900 people were tested over the weekend and 175 tested positive for a 19.4% positivity rate – the highest during the pandemic, she said.

On the Unidos en Salud site at 701 Alabama St., 763 people were tested last Thursday and 129 were positive while more than 700 tested in Norton Street and 136 returned positive, according to Valérie Tulier-Laiwa, who is part of the executive committee. of the Latino Working Group.

Unidos en Salud, a collaboration between UCSF and the Latino Task Force, began in April 2020 and has tested, vaccinated and boosted tens of thousands of SF residents by providing low barrier access. Increasingly, the SF Public Health Department has become an active partner.

During Monday’s meeting with the Latino Task Force, Havlir stressed the need for more residents to be boosted and for more testing. “We have to be very careful when we have massive amounts of covid circulating in our community to repeat the tests,” she said.

While the omicron variant may be milder than the delta variant, she added, “the reason we’re seeing a drop in hospitalizations is due to vaccinations and boosters.” More of these – only 58% of SF residents over the age of 16 are reinforced – will help reduce hospitalizations and serious illness, she said.

Testing on Unidos and other community sites is free, but San Francisco has yet to widely distribute free home tests, and those looking for kits to buy have found them hard to find and expensive to buy.

Walgreens stores at 2690 Mission St. and 1300 Market St. had only a few boxes of the Flowflex Covid-19 Antigen rapid home test kits at $ 10.99 a box Monday morning. Each box contains one test, while other popular brands like BinaxNOW and QuickVue contain two tests per box at $ 23.99.

At this price, many families cannot afford to test, Roberto Hernandez, a member of the Latino Task Force’s executive committee, said at Monday morning’s meeting. “People don’t have money, you know, and it’s going to get even worse,” he said.

Havlir agreed.

“It was never a sustainable model to have these $ 20 store-bought rapid test kits,” Havlir said.

Washington DC, she said, is taking free tests.

One look at the news, and it’s clear that other states are also distributing or planning to distribute rapid home antigen and PCR tests to a wider population, including Connecticut, Louisiana and New Jersey, New Hampshire and Washington.

The same is set to happen in San Francisco, researchers said Monday.

“I will continue and commit to speaking out very clearly, as I have been, on access to rapid testing in the most affected communities, as well as education and what to do. for a positive result, ”Havlir said.

In the meantime, she has stressed the need for vaccinations, boosters, testing, isolation and masking.

A slide presented to Latino Working Group partners by Dr Diane Havlir, UCSF research manager for the Unidos En Salud / United in Health test and research campaign on January 3, 2022.

Diane Jones, a retired HIV nurse who worked with Havlir at UCSF for a long time and was active throughout the Unidos testing and research campaign, added “my phone, like all of yours, has exploded for the holidays because people desperately want to get tries. You can’t even if they had the money, you can’t buy them from Walgreens because they are out and there is no access… S ‘ there were more test sites across town, we wouldn’t be faced with this situation.

And it was indeed the case. Testing was scarce or expensive.

A Walgreens pharmacist at 24 and Potrero said he expects deliveries tomorrow as well as Thursday and Sunday. He recommended to come and get kits first. “They sell out very quickly,” he said. “It is better to arrive early, around 8 am”

Store workers in several locations said the Walgreens company set limits of four kits per customer about two weeks ago, but the kits are still flying off the shelves.

The Castro team leader said they have 204 boxes en route, many of which will be purchased by tourists. But it is not guaranteed that they will have as many, or when they will arrive.

Narineh, deputy store manager at Walgreens at 2145 Market St, said they order around 900 kits per week. “I can’t say how many we’ll have,” she said, explaining that it depends on the stock in the company’s warehouse, as the kits available need to be shared between stores.

She was helping a mother looking for kits to test her children before they returned to school. After discussing the only Covid-19 test left in the store, a Pixel-branded PCR home collection kit that cost $ 124.99 and had to be sent to a lab for a few days of treatment, she advised the mother to come back for the next shipment scheduled for Wednesday.

“The kits sell out too fast,” she said. “Once we receive and store, people buy them right away. “

At Safeway, home test kits have been out of stock since mid-November, a pharmacist at 2020 Market St. said, and they have not been notified when the kits will be back in stock. “I hear people say they can order tests from Amazon,” he said.

A sign displayed at the Safeway Pharmacy in 2020 Market St. alerts customers that they have no rapid covid tests in stock. A pharmacist told Mission Local they have been away since mid-November. Photo taken by Anlan Cheney on January 3, 2022.

More personalized options like the TIN Rx online pharmacy service are also facing a supply shortage. Ving Truong, the pharmacist at Castro’s Market Street pick-up point, confirmed that there had been no more tests since Friday.

Previously, they filled six to nine rapid test orders per day and expect to receive a delivery of 24 boxes tomorrow. But that comes with an increase in prices. The QuickVue tests at $ 26 for a box of two tests are not out of stock, so they fill orders with InteliSwab which costs $ 42 for two tests.

Other local pharmacies like Mission Wellness Pharmacy and Farmacia Remedios in Mission and AHF Pharmacy in Castro do not sell rapid test kits.

It is not known why the San Francisco Department of Public Health was unable to obtain and distribute tests for free, but a spokesperson wrote in an email Monday that he was looking for ways to stock up.

The department “is looking for ways to distribute rapid / home tests to our severely affected communities, once we see the results of federal efforts to increase the supply and affordability of test kits,” it reads. ‘E-mail.

“As expected, we are experiencing an increase in demand for COVID-19 testing during and after the peak holiday season; we have prepared for this scenario and have set up systems to administer 20,000 per week on sites affiliated with the SFDPH ”, he continued.

Members of the Latino task force suggested reopening Moscone for testing and noted that testing site Alemany had closed earlier last week.

“We need more access to testing for people,” Havlir said at the end of the meeting with the Latino task force. “And I will continue, as we all should, [to] be very vocal about this message.

Lydia Chávez contributed reporting for this article.

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