HAYWARD (KPIX 5) — Starting Monday, hundreds of people in the East Bay lined up to get tested for coronavirus for free thanks to the Hayward Fire Department and a lab in Menlo Park. While no referral was required, patients needed to have one specific symptom in order to get the free test.

Concerned residents started lining up early Monday morning, waiting to be screened and possibly tested for the coronavirus. 

“If you’re not exhibiting a fever of anything over 100 degrees, you’re probably going to be turned away,” said Hayward Fire spokesperson Don Nichelson.

Officials announced plans for the testing center at Hayward Fire Station #7 on 28270 Huntwood Avenue Sunday. The center is operating from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., though many people lined up hours before it opened.

As of late Monday afternoon, the center had screened approximately 625 people and sent 170 tests to the Menlo Park lab for analysis.

Hayward Fire has partnered with Avellino Lab in Menlo Park to test up to 370 people a day to potentially alleviate some of the strain local emergency rooms are seeing.

Initially, the testing center was intended for people exhibiting symptoms (including fever, shortness of breath and other respiratory symptoms), first responders, and health care workers were the individuals the Hayward Fire Department was primarily hoping to test for COVID-19.

The criteria were later expanded to include those who have recently traveled to Europe or Asia, anyone with either confirmed or suspected exposure, anyone over 65 years of age, individuals with chronic disease or a compromised immune system, any women who are currently or recently pregnant, individuals with diabetes, heart disease, lung disease or neurological disease and the homeless.

Whether arriving in cars or walking up to wait in line in the adjacent park, after being asked a series of questions — including “What symptoms do you have?” and “Have you traveled to Europe lately?” — prospective patients who qualified were then asked to move on to the tents.

“Tent number one is where you’re going to be asked some more questions, fill out some paperwork, and then you’ll move into tent number two,” explained Nichelson. “Now tent number two is the testing site, so that’s where you’ll be orally swabbed and nasally swabbed as well.” 

An East Bay nurse with 40 years experience told KPIX 5 she arrived early Monday morning, but was initially denied a test.

“I took a shower and I have some Tylenol already, my DayQuil. But I had [flu-like symptoms] the last three or four days, and it’s getting worse. But I was denied because my temperature was not 100 something. It was 99,” she explained.

She then went to the hospital where she worked and was sent back to the testing center.

“I had viral symptoms. It’s all there. They talk to one of the chiefs here and they send me back here,” she said. 

The nurse said her symptoms were just getting worse. 

“I have a hard time breathing, but I feel better since I’m tested. Just to make sure,” she said.

The fire department was treating and staffing the pandemic response like a common Bay Area natural disaster.

“We have people that are off-duty that are coming in,” said Nichelson. “We are running it like a wildland fire. If there was a fire in the hills, then we would send a strike team there.” 

For longtime firefighter Nichelson, the whole scene felt removed from reality.

“I feel like I’m watching a movie,” he said.

Tests were being transferred 20 at a time to Avellino Lab. Those tested will most likely be asked to go home and self-quarantine.

Some people will get their test results back within six hours, but the majority of people will most likely get them back within 24 hours. The testing setup will be in operation for at least the next three weeks.

Officials said that during the testing period, traffic closures will affect Huntwood Avenue between Tennyson Road and Celia Street at Tennyson Park.

Andria Borba contributed to this story.

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