Bay Area coronavirus cases climb as testing grows: 26% test positive at Hayward site

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More than a quarter of the people tested for coronavirus at a Hayward site that opened this week turned up positive, city officials said Thursday — even as confirmed cases climbed in the Bay Area, topping 1,400, with at least 32 deaths.

At the city-run site, 26% — 54 out of 207 tested Monday, its first day — tested positive, as new sites open daily in the Bay Area and confirmed cases of the illness caused by the coronavirus rises.

Increased testing reveals more cases. But providers are still having trouble keeping up with the need.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said this week the state needs more tests, “smarter and more targeted testing, and more community surveillance,” noting that the state’s testing capacity is still not good enough.

A new testing site that opened last Friday in Daly City, for example, will only be open for an hour a day on weekdays — from 3 to 4 p.m. — and only for patients of North East Medical Services who have symptoms and made an appointment. The site, at 211 Eastmoor Ave., is run by that medical group. Another site, at 1870 Lundy Ave. in San Jose, also has limited hours weekdays from 2 to 3 p.m. The health care provider plans to add some locations in San Francisco and expand hours in the future.

“To combat this crisis, we will need to expand testing capacity such as this rapidly,” San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa said, adding that the new Daly City site “will save lives.”

On Wednesday, UCSF opened a testing center in San Francisco’s Laurel Heights neighborhood, but limited it to its 12,000 employees.

Health care workers labor “in a vulnerable work environment,” said Dr. Ralph Gonzales, UCSF’s chief innovation officer. “If they have symptoms, we want to have them tested.”

But with limited testing supply, Gonzales said, he may discourage patients with mild symptoms from seeking testing. Instead, he said, he could assess them over a video call and would probably recommend that they stay at home to decrease their exposure in public.

“There’s still an emerging position about whether or not we should be doing much more wider testing to control the pandemic in the U.S.,” Gonzales said.

Tests, he said, are imperfect and can give false negatives. Practicing good hygiene is best, Gonzales said. And people who are at high risk or who have been exposed to the virus should isolate at home for 14 days.

“That’s where the testing doesn’t make that much of a difference, to be honest with you,” he said.

Local labs have “plenty of capacity” to run test results, said Gina Intinarelli, vice president of population health management at UCSF Health, but testing sites are constrained by a lack of staff and equipment: swabs and personal protective gear for handling the swabs.

The new testing site in Hayward — at Fire Station No. 7 on Huntwood Avenue — is one of the first in the Bay Area to offer

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free testing. The tests are only for people with a fever of at least 100 degrees and any of the following: shortness of breath, recent travel to Europe or Asia, exposure to the virus, a chronic condition, over age 65, currently or recently pregnant, or homeless.

The site can process up to 370 samples a day through Avellino Lab of Menlo Park. For people who test positive, results are shared within six hours or by the next day. The site also reports results to the federal CDC and to county health departments where the patients live.

People can join drive-up and walk-up lines up until 10 a.m. and again between 1 and 4 p.m. until the maximum number of tests are administered for the day. On Thursday, the center closed early and reduced the number of tests to allow Hayward firefighter-paramedics to conduct mobile testing to vulnerable populations. They may do the same Friday.

But not everything goes smoothly, even at Hayward, perhaps the Bay Area’s most welcoming testing site.

Mirella Rangel, an Oakland resident with a chronic heart condition who has had sporadic COVID-19 symptoms for a month, waited in line for two hours Wednesday — only to be turned away. She was told at 1:15 p.m. that the center couldn’t do any more tests that day. Yet it was five hours before the site’s scheduled closing time.

With an escalated heart rate, Rangel had already visited the emergency room at Kaiser Oakland twice in the past two weeks. But she said the doctors told her she didn’t qualify for a coronavirus test.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say that not everyone with mild symptoms need to be tested, but older and vulnerable patients should be prioritized.

Now, Rangel has stopped trying to get tested.

“At this point, I’m not, because I’m trying to conserve my energy, and I’ve kind of given up,” Rangel said from her home Thursday. She’d change her mind if tests became more widely available.

“But right now it’s too much,” she said.

California lags behind New York in the number of tests administered. There, confirmed cases and deaths have skyrocketed. Testing more than doubled in California on Monday, but most results were still pending Thursday, according to the Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project.

The Fremont Fire Department plans to open a COVID-19 testing site soon, spokeswoman Aisha Knowles said Thursday, but provided no more details.

Dr. Justin Zaghi, medical director for telemedicine app Heal, said testing is important for reporting cases and giving patients peace of mind. He’s virtually clinically diagnosed patients with the disease but knows they don’t qualify for a test or would have to risk leaving their homes to get one.

Heal was planning to launch home COVID-19 testing this week, until the Federal Drug Administration said home tests were unauthorized. The company is holding onto 500 to 1,000 test kits in hopes the policy will change.

Mallory Moench is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: mallory.moench@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @mallorymoench

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