COVID-19 testing open to the general public

Health department conducted 118 tests on May 10, with a daily capacity for 132.
Photo by Robert Eliason.

Testing for COVID-19 is now available to the general public in San Benito County. The California Department of Public Health designated the county as one of 80 priority testing sites statewide to receive free tests as part of a program focused on underserved communities.

San Benito County Public Health Services prioritized testing for first responders before opening its services to the public. The department tested 137 first responders between May 5-7. Lynn Mello, director of nursing and public health administrator, said the department conducted 118 tests when services were opened to the public on May 10, adding that the unit can test 132 individuals per day.

“We were dealing with local staff so we needed to pull together an intensive operation,” she said. “We wanted to test it out with our first responders because they are a high-risk group. We used them as a pilot to work the kinks out.”

Testing will be conducted for at least the next two weeks on Sundays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building at 649 San Benito Street in Hollister. Testing is by appointment only with no age restrictions. While the state designated San Benito County to host a testing program, it is funded by the federal government, which contracted with OptumServe to run the site with assistance from the county.

“The contractor can only commit to two weeks at a time, but I am optimistic those two weeks will be extended,” Mello said.

Residents can schedule an appointment for a viral COVID-19 test online through the Logistics Health Incorporated website or by phone at (888) 634-1123. Available appointment dates are given along with appointment times in half-hour brackets. Results are made available on the website and by email between five to seven days after testing.

On the day of the test, patients are directed to the side entrance of the Veterans Memorial Building in Brown Alley. Prior to testing, patients are asked to show identification and a few questions regarding their general health. Following that, the actual testing takes place, a brief process with minimal discomfort (this reporter was tested on May 10).

Mello described the process:

“A medical professional takes a swab and they slowly insert it into the nose until it reaches the back of the nasopharyngeal area [at the back of the nasal passage] and they allow it to absorb mucus. They remove it and put it in a tube to go to the laboratory.”

The thin, flexible swab is tipped with absorbent material and is left in the nostril for a few seconds to gather nasal fluids. The discomfort is minimal and does not linger long after the test.

According to the California Pandemic Roadmap, aggressive testing and identifying infected individuals is one of six indicators for modifying the state’s shelter-in-place order. The other five are the ability to protect those at high risk for the virus; the ability to accommodate a surge at hospitals; a plan of “therapeutic development” to meet an increased demand on hospitals; the ability of businesses and schools to support social distancing; and a determination of whether a shelter-in-place order might need to be reinstituted.

Testing is by appointment only through the website or by phone at (888) 634-1123. The Memorial Veterans Hall Building is located at 649 San Benito Street, Hollister.


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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.