COVID-19 testing at the San Francisco Department of Public Health laboratory. (Photo by Tyrone Jue courtesy of San Francisco Department of Public Health)

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Tests kits for the novel coronavirus will be prioritized for health care workers and first responders in San Francisco, Mayor London Breed announced Friday.

The announcement comes after union leaders representing workers at both Laguna Honda Memorial Hospital and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital called on Breed and the Department of Public Health to create a plan to protect front-line workers from contracting COVID-19.

During a briefing with city leaders at the city’s Emergency Operations Center, Breed said the city’s health care workers and first responders will now be able to access COVID-19 tests through their Kaiser Permanente or Blue Shield insurance plans via their primary care doctors.

“Now, thanks to Kaiser and Blue Shield, we will be able to provide testing for the health care workers who are on the frontline and working with patients who have been infected, as well as many of our public safety officials; our firefighters, police officers and those who are on the frontline,” Breed said.

The new measures come in light of six confirmed cases of employees at Laguna Honda Memorial Hospital contracting COVID-19, as well as one patient. In response, two units at the hospital have been placed under quarantine.

Additionally, according to health director Dr. Grant Colfax, an emergency department staff member at San Francisco General Hospital has also tested positive and is self-isolating at home.

Contact investigations are underway in all cases, Colfax said. “I am sad to say this, we do expect an outbreak,” Colfax said, adding that the city is consulting with staff and experts on long term care, infection control and infectious diseases.

Mobile testing sites

Furthermore, the city has established three new mobile testing locations in the city. One will be located in the Outer Sunset District and another will be in Chinatown, and both are set to open early this week.

A third site located near Oracle Park will open at the end of the week. Patients at the sites will need a clinical referral to be tested at the mobile sites.

The three new sites add to four existing COVID-19 mobile testing sites currently available through other health providers.

“Expect to see an increase in positive cases,” Colfax, said as the number of cases of the city hit 279 on Friday, with three fatalities.

“Do not be surprised, because we’ve been increasing our testing throughout the city. Simply put: the more testing we can do, the more cases we will find,” he cautioned.

Despite a shortage of test kits, the city’s public health lab currently conducts 150 COVID-19 tests a day, Colfax said. He predicts by this week, as many as 450 tests will be processed at the lab daily.

Also, in the face of a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), Colfax said health care workers and patients in high-risk settings are being given isolation masks for further protection.

Colfax said the city is working with the state and private organizations to acquire more PPE.

No large public gatherings

As the weekend approached, police Chief Bill Scott said officers will be patrolling public areas such as the Embarcadero, Marina Green, and Dolores Park, making sure residents are complying with the shelter-in-place order.

“We want everyone to use good common sense. Stay six feet apart. If you’re going to exercise, have respect for others around you. If you are going to go to the grocery store, or wherever, to keep essential items in your household, practice those same protocols,” he said.

To further deter large public gatherings, parking lots at locations such as Baker Beach, Ocean Beach and Chrissy Field have been closed.

Regarding the city’s efforts to shelter the homeless during the order, Breed said the new shelter at Moscone Center West is set to open this week. The addition will help free more space at the city’s shelters and navigation centers for social distancing.

The city effort to lease hotel rooms for vulnerable populations who can’t self-quarantine, like the homeless and those living in single-room occupancy hotels, and first responders is also making progress, with 300 rooms already leased. The city plans on securing leases for 3,000 more rooms by the end of this week.