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Citing protests, 2 free Oakland COVID testing centers close

Citing protests, 2 free Oakland COVID testing centers close
A sign outside the now-closed Brown & Toland drive-through testing center near Lake Merritt. | Photos: Zack Haber/Hoodline
By Zack Haber - Published on June 05, 2020.

Two drive-through sites for free COVID-19 testing in Oakland — one of them operated in partnership with the city — have been shut down since the beginning of June. In both cases, officials cited the recent protests of police violence in Oakland as the reason for their closure.

One of the sites, in the parking lot of the Kaiser Convention Center at Lake Merritt, was run by Brown & Toland Physicians Group in partnership with the City of Oakland. It's been closed since Monday, June 1, with conflicting reports on whether it will reopen. 

"[The site] is not permanently closed, but there was a disruption to their operation this week," said city spokesperson Karen Boyd, adding that it was "related to the demonstrations."

Oakland public information officer Sean Mahar also said the site will "resume operations in the coming days."

However, a source at Brown & Toland said that while the site closed early in response to the protests, it had already been scheduled to close today, and would not reopen. 

The other closed testing site, run by pharmacy chain CVS at East Oakland’s Eastmont Town Center, says it will return next week. CVS spokesperson Amy B. Thibault cited "unrest within the community" as the reason for the temporary closure. 

Via email, Thibault said the testing site had to shut down because the staff must fill prescriptions from other, now-closed CVS stores that were affected by the protests. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, four CVS stores in Oakland are currently closed, along with 10 Walgreens stores.

“All team members are needed to process prescriptions during this time," Thibault said. "COVID-19 testing will pick up next week."

Asked why pharmacy workers from the four closed locations couldn't assist with the effort, Thibault did not respond. 

The CVS at Eastmont Town Center has boarded up all but one of its doors. A drive-through testing center in the parking lot closed earlier this week.

Civic leaders around the country — including Schaaf — have expressed concerns over COVID-19 spreading among protesters.

"This virus can spread so easily," Schaaf told ABC7 on Tuesday. "On Friday night, we had 8,000 protesters in a tight group. That is not safe."

But while San Francisco mayor London Breed has encouraged protesters to get tested on social media, Schaaf has remained silent. 

However, she was vocal about the importance of the Brown & Toland site, which first opened to non-first responders on April 6. The site was designed to test up to 240 essential workers per day, including health care workers, grocery store and food bank employees and homeless outreach workers. 

"We must take care of those who are taking care of us," Schaaf said at the time. 

Angelica Angel, an Oakland resident who provides aid to the unhoused, was tested multiple times at the Brown & Toland site. She said she's frustrated by its closure.

“They seemed like they had developed a very safe system to do the testing," she said, noting that indoor testing feels "a lot less efficient and a lot less safe.”

“Being able to get tested is really important to me,” said Angel. "My grandmother has a heart condition, so if I don’t know my infection status, I can’t take care of her.”

While it's unclear how many drive-through testing sites Oakland has, at least three remain open.

One is a city partnership with Alphabet (the parent company of Google), operating out of Allen Temple Baptist Church on International Boulevard. It provides free testing, regardless of insurance status, every day but Sunday from 1 - 7 p.m. Pre-registration is required.

An Oakland resident who was tested at the site on Wednesday said it was "extremely backed up." Despite registering beforehand, she had to wait for two hours. 

A second drive-through site in East Oakland, run through Osita Health Clinic (OHC), launched services at the intersection of Bancroft and Seminary avenues on Tuesday.

Co-owner and nurse practitioner Christiana Umeh says the clinic has not yet been crowded, and visits have gone quickly. Unlike the Allen Temple site, pre-registration is encouraged, not required. Visitors arriving on foot can also be tested. 

“Anyone is welcome to come in and get this test,” said Umeh, noting that co-pays and fees are waived for those with and without insurance. Residents of neighboring cities are also welcome. 

Osita Health Clinic's new drive-through testing center in East Oakland.

The third drive-through site, at the West Oakland Health Center (700 Adeline St.), just opened this week. Operated in partnership with Alameda County, it's open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. Walk-up clients are also welcome. 

Free, outdoor walk-up testing is also available at International Blvd.'s Roots Community Clinic, which is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Carbon Health, in Adams Point, offers free testing indoors with an appointment.