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Update, October 27: Two of the sites, Allen Temple Baptist Church and the former Henry J Kaiser Convention Center parking lot have severed ties with Verily. Both sites are now run by other testing facilitators. The information provided below reflects the said changes.

Update, August 14: There is a new Oakland COVID-19 testing site located in Chinatown through Asian Health Services.

Update, July 16: There are two new testing sites in East Oakland: the Native American Health Center in Fruitvale and the Osita Health Clinic site on Seminary Avenue.

Early last month, The Oaklandside reported on the opening of three COVID-19 testing sites in East Oakland, including Roots Community Health Center. Test results documented by Roots since then are alarming.

Of the roughly 2,100 COVID-19 tests that have been administered at the health center’s walk-up site, around 14% have come back positive, according to Dr. Noha Aboelata, Roots’s CEO. East Oakland residents make up 60% of those who have been tested, but account for 90% of the positive test results. The highest rates of COVID-19 positive tests have come from, in order, zip codes 94601 (Fruitvale), 94603 (98th Avenue), 94621 (Coliseum), 94605 (Eastmont) and 94606 (Eastlake).

“From a virus transmission standpoint, we have zero reason to be letting our guard down, especially in East Oakland, which appears to be a COVID hotspot,” said Aboelata.

Alarming test data, combined with the recent easing of shelter-in-place restrictions in Alameda County, make testing more important than ever. But for many, especially monolingual residents and people without health insurance, finding a test site, determining eligibility, and figuring out how to set up an appointment can be confusing.

What to expect when you get a free COVID-19 test in Oakland

As an East Oakland resident, I decided to get tested at two of the test sites and report back on my experience. As an essential worker—I’m a caretaker for my grandmother in addition to being a reporter—I’ve been strict about adhering to the shelter-in-place order, limiting my outings to grocery shopping, pharmacy runs, and filling up my gas tank. I wear a mask whenever I step outside of my apartment, carry hand sanitizer, wash my hands frequently, and follow all of the other guidelines set by the CDC. Still, I’m worried about catching the coronavirus and spreading it. 

I decided to get my first test done at Allen Temple Baptist Church on International Blvd. and 85th Ave. The site offers free, drive-through testing by appointment, and you don’t need to have symptoms or be an essential worker. For those who are computer savvy, setting up an appointment online is a relatively simple process that involves answering a few basic questions about yourself. I was able to enroll and scheduled an appointment for the next day.

Health workers wait to receive patients at the coronavirus testing site on 35th Avenue and E. 12th St. in Fruitvale. Credit: Azucena Rasilla

But for those who aren’t as comfortable on computers, registering for an appointment at Allen Temple could be challenging. The test site uses an online registration platform developed by Verily, a biotech company run by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and having a Google account is required to make an appointment. Those without an account will be prompted by the website to create one in order to make an appointment.

On my appointment day, I drove up to the testing site entrance and presented my ID and appointment number through the car window. A testing kit was placed on my windshield, and I was directed to drive to another area where health workers asked me to roll down my window and pull my mask down below my nose. They swabbed the inside of one of my nostrils for a few seconds. Although there was some discomfort (my eyes were watery for a few minutes, and my nose was itchy for the rest of the day), it wasn’t painful. I received my tests via email three days later.

For those who don’t have a car, La Clinica de la Raza in the Fruitvale district now offers free walk-up testing to the public on the corner of 35th Avenue and East 12th Street.

“We started off by testing our own patients, and it was clear from that experience that we needed to expand our testing,” said La Clínica’s CEO, Jane Garcia. 

Early results from La Clínica’s testing site are also troubling. Of the clinic’s patients who have been tested for COVID-19, said Garcia, “We’ve seen a positive rate of 29 percent.” Those results, coupled with COVID-19 data from Alameda County, indicate that Latinx residents are at a higher risk to contract the disease. Close to half of all positive cases in the county are Latinx people, as noted in a recent report from Oakland Voices.

Unlike at Allen Temple, the Fruitvale test site offers the convenience of making an appointment over the phone. Customer service reps are available to process the call in Spanish, English, or Mam. After answering basic questions about yourself, you can set up an appointment Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

“We thought it was important to offer this service to our community and to assure our community that their information is confidential,” Garcia said. 

The testing site is staffed by nine healthcare workers from the dental clinic and three customer service reps at the call center adjacent to the testing site. The site averages 100 tests per day but La Clínica hopes to double that number, said Francisco Valadez, a school-based dental operations manager currently overseeing the location’s operations.

When I visited, I waited under a tent until an available healthcare worker greeted me and confirmed my identity, then confirmed the pre-filled intake paperwork and signed a consent form. A healthcare worker took my temperature and swabbed both nostrils, one at a time for a few seconds. I took the test on a Friday and a representative from La Clínica called me on Monday with the results.

The county opened another free testing site in the Fruitvale district on June 30, through a partnership with the Native American Health Center. The site is also being supported by Color, a private health technology company, and Carbon Health, a private health care provider. Testing is available Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

I got tested at this site as well. Tests are administered at the site by swabbing both nostrils. Currently, results are made available between 1-3 days via text, or email. 

Since its opening at the end of June, the testing site has seen a steady increase in the number of people getting tested. According to Charlene Harrison, the center’s site director, 105 people were tested on opening day. One week later, on July 7, that number had risen to 329. 

Other testing sites are also experiencing a higher volume of testing appointment needs. La Clínica’s site has been experiencing issues with their phone system because the current demand is exceeding the call center’s capacity, according to a spokesperson from La Clínica.

Fortunately, I tested negative on all occasions. For those who test positive but show no symptoms or do not require medical attention, the CDC has detailed guidelines to follow. The most important thing is to self-isolate until it is safe for you to be around others. At the test site on 35th Avenue, you can pick up “home isolation and quarantine instructions” from the county health department.

The resource list below includes only the COVID-19 testing sites in Oakland that are free-of-charge and do not require a doctor’s referral or health insurance information.

Asian Health Services Community Testing

Where: Madison Square Park, 810 Jackson St.

When: Tuesdays 12 p.m. to 7 p.m; Thursday and Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

What: Free walk-up testing site by appointment only. Call 510-735-3222. Information is available in 12 languages including Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, and Mongolian.

Native American Health Center

Where: 3050 International Blvd.

When: Tuesdays and Thursdays 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

What: Free walk-up testing in partnership with Color and Carbon Health. Make an appointment online. If you are unable to make an appointment online, call (510) 535-3370. Phone service is available in English, Spanish, Arabic, Mam, and Cambodian.

Osita Health Clinic

Where: 2521 Seminary Ave. 

When: Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

What: Free walk-up testing site for COVID and antibodies in conjunction with HR Support. Make an appointment online by filling up the sign-up intake form.

Roots Community Health Center

Where: 9925 International Blvd.

When: Monday, Wednesday  9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

What: Free walk-up testing. No appointment needed for existing Roots patients and those without a primary healthcare provider. All others should make an appointment through the online site. If you are unable to make an appointment online, call (510) 777-1177 or walk-up to the site to register in person.

Allen Temple Baptist Church

Where: 8501 International Blvd.

When: Tuesdays and Thursdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

What: Drive-through testing. Make an appointment through the online site.

La Clínica de La Raza 

Where: corner of 35th Ave. and East 12th St. (BART parking lot)

When: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m

What: Walk-in or drive-through. Call (510) 535-3370 to set up an appointment. Customer service reps are available in English, Spanish, and Mam.

Lifelong East Oakland Center

Where: 10700 MacArthur Blvd. (located in Foothill Square)

When: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m

What: Walk-in testing for anyone. For LifeLong patients, call (510) 981-4100. If you are not a LifeLong patient, call (510) 981-4199 to be screened for eligibility, registered, and scheduled.

CVS Pharmacies

Where: some CVS locations

When: Fill out the online questionnaire to see if you qualify.

What: Testing is limited to healthcare workers, caregivers, and immunocompromised individuals

Henry J Kaiser Convention Center (parking lot)

Where: 10 10th St.

When: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays: 8:30 a.m – 11:30 a.m; 12:30 p.m – 4:00 p.m. Essential workers prioritized Tuesdays and Saturdays: 8:30 a.m – 11:30 a.m. Children, 2 and older can be tested on Saturdays

What: Make an appointment through the online site.

West Oakland Health Center

Where: 700 Adeline Street

When: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

What: Walk-in testing for anyone. Need to make an appointment online or call (510) 238-3134 and leave a voicemail. A library staff member will call you back and guide you with the registration.

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Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.