The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped big crowds from taking to San Francisco’s streets to protest police violence in recent days, so city officials have set up a mobile testing site for people concerned about exposure to the coronavirus.
A free, pop-up testing location at the Cathedral of St. Mary at 1111 Gough St. opened at noon Friday for anyone to get swabbed for COVID-19, including those who have gathered in mass demonstrations recently — even if they are showing no symptoms of infection. The city is directing anyone who wants a test at the mobile site to sign up at www.projectbaseline.com/study/covid-19.
Other testing sites across the city are available to people showing symptoms of COVID-19 and for workers who must leave their homes to perform their jobs, exposing them to a higher risk of contracting the virus. More information about how and where to get tested is available at https://sf.gov/find-out-how-get-tested-coronavirus.
Nearly two weeks of demonstrations catalyzed by the recent death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis — like one in San Francisco’s Mission District Wednesday that drew a crowd of thousands — concern public health officials, who worry about the potential for widespread transmission among large groups of people.
City leaders have tried to establish a precarious balance: supporting the public’s right to protest while urging them to remember the continued threat of the virus.
“I think everyone in public health is concerned,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, San Francisco’s health officer, said.
“The risk depends on how many people in the crowed are carrying the coronavirus,” he said. “If very few people are carrying, you’re probably going to be fine. But we don’t know, and that’s the problem. The few people that might have it, they’re the ones you hope wear their mask.”
Rules around maintaining distance from other people and wearing face-coverings in public are still in effect in San Francisco but difficult to follow in large crowds.
Masks are intended to keep tiny droplets carrying the coronavirus from spreading through talking, coughing, sneezing — or shouting protest chants.
“Yelling puts out more droplets, but you hope it gets diluted enough from the air,” Aragón said. “Public health authorities are concerned, and we’re hoping it doesn’t set us back. We’re a region of 7 million people. If there are a few thousand people at a protest, you hope a few thousand (people) won’t change the epidemiology of millions of people. We’ll see.”