SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — After already temporarily reducing hours at several San Francisco COVID testing sites due to staffing issues, nationwide computer problems forced health officials to completely close down six testing centers Monday afternoon, and service may be suspended even longer.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health tweeted at 1:30 p.m. that the computer issues being experienced by the city’s COVID-19 testing partner Color was leading to the closure of a number of sites.

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Monday night, Palo-Alto based Color tweeted that service would be suspended through Tuesday due to outages and people with postponed appointments would be contacted with alternative testing options.

The computer difficulties were not isolated to San Francisco.

The testing sites being shut down were Alemany, SOMA (7th/Brannan), Southeast Health Center, 20 Norton, Ella Hill Hutch, and Bayview Opera House locations.

“We’re working with Color to accommodate those who had appointments today,” a subsequent tweet read. “We will provide updates as we learn more and have next steps.”

Residents were advised to refer to an online list of other testing sites in San Francisco.

Color shared the following statement regarding the outage:

“We have temporarily suspended service through the end of today at our San Francisco testing sites to ensure that people do not have to wait unnecessarily. We are managing intermittent outages that have impacted our patient registration and sample collection software, and our team is actively working to resolve this situation. We will restore service at these locations as soon as possible. For anyone whose appointments were postponed today, Color will be in touch with alternative testing options. Please do not access these sites for testing at this time. Do not call 911 or go to the emergency room unless it’s a medical emergency. We apologize for the stress and inconvenience this has caused.”

The problems also surfaced in Hayward, another city that partnered with Color for its COVID testing sites.

The problems started at around 9 a.m. Monday morning at the Cherryland COVID testing facility on Mission Boulevard in Hayward when nurses noticed a slow down with the computer system. The check-in process, which normally can be completed in seconds, was taking upwards of ten minutes per patient.

The Hayward site was also using Color labs, whose website repeatedly became frozen and unresponsive Monday morning.

The system worked intermittently before staff decided to shut the site down early Monday afternoon at about 1 p.m. A few lucky people — like Hayward resident Lori McGee and her family, who waited in line for five and a half hours — actually got tested.

“We made it! Thank God!” exclaimed McGee “They said they were gonna cancel it all out. We weren’t happy about that.”

At 1 p.m., non-profit service provider La Familia – who runs the site – shut it down and told the hundreds of people in line to go home. La Familia CEO Aaron Ortiz said the site had similar problems last week.

“We’re gonna have to have a meeting with the state lab and we’re gonna have to have a meeting with the county to figure out what the next steps are,” he said. “We just can’t continue to have this happen to the community. Or I’ll have to see if I can switch to another lab.”

Rosa Cruz waited several hours for a test before being among those turned away. Her employer requires a negative test before she can go back on the job.

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“There’s nothing we can do. So we’re not going to be available to go to work,” said Cruz.

Ortiz said that Color should be able to deliver on its services as promised, despite the increased demand for testing.

“I understand that we’re having a surge and the system’s on overload,” Ortiz said. “But at the same time, if you’re going to take this work on, you got to be ready And you got to be ready to take on this type of load.”

Frustrations mounted as more and more people tried to find a way to get a COVID test with varying degrees of success.

“I was going to be visiting family and when I went to try to book one, I was only able to do it two weeks out,” said Clare Fonstein of Walnut Creek. “The ones that were rapid, available now, you had to pay for, so it was pretty difficult to figure out.”

Dave Jah was visiting the Bay from Los Angeles. He recently went through the stress of getting a test to see his brother.

“Both in San Diego where he goes to school and us in LA – in a 5-mile radius we can’t find any tests,” he said.

Back in San Francisco, public health department had earlier announced it was suffering from worker shortages related to a surge in omicron cases among staffers, forcing the department to temporary reduce hours at four testing sites.

Health officials said the short-term reduction would result in a loss of approximately 250 tests being administered per day. The current 7-day average at SFDPH-affiliated sites is 6,000 tests administered per day.

“(The) SFDPH-affiliated testing sites will be temporarily impacted with reduced hours due to COVID-related staffing shortages and because of an increase in processing times for test results given the high demand on laboratories across the country,” health officials said in a news release.

One of the sites, Southeast Health Center, will experience a reduction in hours on Monday only and then will resume normal operating hours on Tuesday.

The other three sites impacted were:

  • Ella Hill Hutch — a reduction of three hours in the afternoon — new hours: 8am-2pm
  • Alemany — a reduction of two hours in the evening — new hours: 8am-6pm
  • SOMA (7th/Brannan) — a reduction of three hours in the morning beginning Tuesday — new hours: 12pm-6pm

With a steep surge in the demand for testing since early December, San Francisco health officials said, there has been a doubling in the number of tests administered at the sites.

“We want to emphasize that we anticipate this to be temporary period of time, and the sites will continue to operate far above their designated capacity,” officials said in the news release. “Additionally, SFDPH is working to minimize the impact of this temporary reduction by bringing in additional resources to augment capacity, including over 150,000 rapid tests due to arrive early this week.”

The SFDPH-affiliated sites currently account for about 60% of the tests administered at site locations in the city.

Over the weekend, Dr. Susan Ehrlich, chief executive officer Zuckerberg San Francisco General, said her emergency department was being overwhelmed by people seeking COVID tests.

“We’ve never seen anything quite like this during the surges we’ve had so far,” she said. “So please don’t call 911, don’t walk into an emergency department either because you want a COVID test or because you are having mild symptoms of COVID.”

“Most cases of COVID are mild and you can stay home,” Ehrlich added. “If you have symptoms, if you’re feeling sick, you should stay home, take care of yourself and try to stay away from other people as much as possible.”

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Betty Yu contributed to this report