If you get a test, can you travel for the holidays? Bay Area health officers give mixed messages

ByMelanie Woodrow, Leslie Brinkley KGO logo
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
If you get a test, can you travel? Here's what every county says
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As we inch closer to Thanksgiving 2020, there are some mixed messages about holiday travel. Can you get tested for COVID-19 and then travel to see family or friends? The answer from health officials depends on which Bay Area county you live in.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As we inch closer to the Thanksgiving holiday, there are some mixed messages about holiday travel. Can you get tested for COVID-19 and then travel to see family or friends? The answer depends on which Bay Area county you live in.

The message from San Francisco health officials is clear: Stay home this Thanksgiving.

"Please do not use testing to determine whether you can travel or not," said Health Officer Dr. Grant Colfax. "We have seen the repeated failure of this testing strategy across the country, including in Washington, D.C. A negative test cannot be an excuse to put yourself or others at risk. Remember, please remember that people who test negative can still harbor the virus if they are early in their infection."

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But while San Francisco sounds that message loudly, nearby counties are suggesting otherwise.

Contra Costa County held a press conference Tuesday, advising residents to test for COVID-19 if they're going to gather with family members.

"We think the safest thing is to not gather outside your household. We know that some people will not follow that," said Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano.

WATCH: Contra Costa Co. opens additional COVID-19 test centers ahead of Thanksgiving

Contra Costa County is advising residents to not gather with people outside their homes this Thanksgiving, but if they do, health officials recommend testing for COVID-19.

Which approach is correct?

"It's both," says UCSF epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford. "You know, Dr. Colfax is 100% correct. This is the most current public health advice, which is just don't do it. Stay inside with your family, no amount of testing is going to absolutely guarantee you're safe."

"However, if they're not going to do that, then we're into a kind of harm reduction," he continued.

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It seems health officials across the Bay Area recognize, they can tell you to stay home, but not everyone will.

Alameda County health officials say, above all, they strongly recommend residents avoid traveling for the holidays. If you do get tested, you should wait for a negative test result before you start your trip. Also, even if you test negative, you should not travel if you're feeling ill. Alameda County also recommends getting tested again three to seven days after your return and monitoring yourself for symptoms for 14 days after your trip, with an earlier return test if you have symptoms.

Santa Clara County has similar recommendations: Don't travel outside the Bay Area during this time. If you do, quarantine upon your return and testing is always a good idea. County health officials say anyone can get tested. There are appointment-based and walk-up sites.

Marin County's public health officer says family and friends who plan to travel for a holiday gathering should consider being tested before and after.

MORE: California tightens COVID-19 mask restrictions, face coverings must be worn outdoors at all times

Solano County says it is not advising against testing before travels. Testing is especially encouraged if someone has an exposure or symptoms.

Sonoma County says non-essential travel is not recommended. Travel increases your interaction with others and therefore increases your risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. It is strongly recommended that you self-quarantine for 14 days after your return if your activities put you at a higher risk of getting COVID-19. Per the county, you should also get tested at the end of that time regardless of whether or not you develop symptoms because even people with no symptoms may be infected and can transmit the virus to others.

When asked what Napa County residents should do regarding testing and travel, the county simply replied, "Testing is available and open to anyone wanting it."

Only San Mateo County didn't respond to our request for comment before publishing.

COVID-19 RISK CALCULATOR: The safest and most dangerous things to do this holiday season

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Finding a test before Thanksgiving can be challenging depending on where you live.

San Francisco City Test SF shows no available appointments at Embarcadero Pier 30 or the new Alemany Farmer's Market location.

According to the San Francisco COVID-19 Command Center: "CityTestSF limits the number of appointments available in advance to ensure that those essential workers that have symptoms and those workers that have been exposed are prioritized for testing."

The county also says if an essential worker has insurance and needs a test for another reason other than exposure or risk, they should get a test with their primary provider.

All counties agree, the safest way to celebrate this holiday season is virtually or with members of your household.

ABC7 News' Jesse Garcia and Alix Martichoux contributed to this report.

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