By Shawn Chitnis

SAN MATEO (KPIX) — People stopped by the San Mateo County Event Center all day to get tested for COVID-19 as part of a new operation run by Virus Geeks, the company that public health officials chose to increase capacity in the new year.

“There is an absolute need ’cause what we’re finding out is: even with the over-the-counter antigen test, it does not detect omicron at its very early infection,” said Virus Geeks CEO Frank Lee. “The laboratories across the country are inundated, I don’t think they were prepared for this surge.”

The company previously ran a testing site at the San Mateo Marriott but long lines created traffic problems so now they operate out of the event center. Lee says the county is testing about 8,500 people per week and he plans to quadruple that number with this team.

“People are definitely concerned and anxious to get tested,” said Matthew Henderson, who works for Virus Geeks. “We’re seeing a lot of people coming in, wanting to make sure that they’re healthy, that they’re OK, taking care of their family and their friends too.”

Lee says he can test around 2,500 people a day but will scale up the operation to reach between 8,000 to 10,000. Now that the holidays have passed, requirements for work and school, including new mandates taking effect next month, will keep the demand high for regular testing.

“My son who lives with us has COVID. He tested positive so he’s been quarantining,” said Gina Bissell, a San Mateo resident at the site on Saturday. “It’s important that you know we just protect ourselves because, by doing that, we’re protecting others.”

Results can take up to three days at this Virus Geeks location. Lee says he is working to get that down to 24 hours. He purchased enough equipment before the surge so he is not worried about meeting the community need. He says samples collected on site remain valid for testing up to a week.

“I would like to test, like, everyday if I had time because I want to ensure I am safe to other people,” said Alice Lin, a Foster City resident who wanted to make sure she was negative after a possible exposure. “Be responsible to yourself, to the person you love, to your coworker, to the society.”

Under the new setup at the event center, appointments are required and people drive onto the grounds but then park and walk up to the testing staff. Lee encourages the public to sign up for appointments well in advance as soon as they know they will need to get tested.

“When a wave begins to end, another wave starts to begin simultaneously,” Lee told KPIX. “It is important regardless if you’re vaccinated or not that you need to get tested.”

Shawn Chitnis