After months of calls for more COVID-19 testing, a vulnerable San Jose area that is home to a large immigrant population now has two free testing sites.
“This has been a population that has been vulnerable for so many reasons pre-COVID — due to rent, due to food insecurities, lack of job opportunities and educational gaps,” East Side Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco said in a recent news conference.
The two new testing sites in East San Jose — one at James Lick High School and the other at the Police Activities League Stadium — are part of a plan by Gov. Gavin Newsom to open at least 80 new testing sites in underserved communities statewide.
Santa Clara County partnered with OptumServe, a health service agency contracted by the state, to open the testing site Wednesday at James Lick High — which is free for everyone to use. Patients don’t have to worry about their health insurance or immigration status, local leaders said. The testing site is committed to testing 132 patients each day, according to the county.
“Providing testing sites in our most vulnerable communities is a big and needed step in addressing those inequities and systematic barriers that are keeping our people at a higher risk for exposure,” said Jacky Franco, a resident leader for the East San Jose PEACE Partnership.
Carrasco and other Latinx leaders said East San Jose’s large population of Latinos is disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. While Latinos represent 27 percent of Santa Clara County, they account for 38 percent of COVID-19 cases in the county. Health figures released last month showed that 36 percent of the coronavirus-related deaths in the county at that point were Latino.
The new testing site at the San Jose Police Activities League Stadium, which opened on Monday, is a drive-thru site — where patients don’t have to get out of their cars. The PAL Stadium site is also free.
During a visit on its first day, about four cars were lined up with residents waiting to be tested.
When patients arrive, they show documentation of their appointments with their windows closed. Then they pull up to another station, where a nurse reaches through the window and inserts a cotton swab through the patient’s nose all the way to the upper part of the throat.
For this drive-thru station, Santa Clara County partnered with Verily, a health service agency that also manages the testing site at the Santa Clara County fairgrounds.
Verily Communications Manager Kathleen Parkes said samples are sealed and sent to Quest Diagnostics, where they are tested in a lab to determine the results. It usually takes two to three days to get tested after scheduling an appointment and another three to five days to receive the results, she added.
While the two new testing sites in East San Jose are a win, some local leaders are calling for more testing countywide.
“We’ll be putting that pressure on the governor’s office as well to make sure we can ramp up,” said Cindy Chavez, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
During an exclusive Q&A webinar last month with Santa Clara Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody hosted by San José Spotlight, readers asked how some cities and counties, such as Bolinas, are able to test all residents who want it.
“Reaching certain testing parameters is a goal of the county, but the reality is there simply are not enough tests available to test everyone in a county approaching 2 million people,” Cody’s staff said in response to a reader’s question.
OptumServe also collaborated with health officials to open a testing location at Christopher High School in Gilroy on Wednesday.
“We have to have these types of services throughout the county. Only then will we be able to open our businesses,” Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco said during a news conference.
How to get tested
PAL Stadium, San Jose: The only way to make an appointment to be tested at this site is to take an online assessment first. It is open Monday through Friday and has capacity to test 250 patients a day, Parkes said.
James Lick High School, San Jose: Residents must schedule an appointment on the agency’s website or by calling 1-888-634-1123.
Christopher High School, Gilroy: Residents must schedule an appointment on the agency’s website or by calling 1-888-634-1123.
Contact Luke Johnson at [email protected] and follow @Scoop_Johnson on Twitter.