Coronavirus screening: North Bay town Bolinas offers every resident COVID-19 tests

BOLINAS, Calif. (KGO) -- "Everybody wants it to happen and now it's happening," says venture capitalist Jyri Engestrom.

He is talking about something that might seem too good to be true -- free COVID-19 tests for everybody. It is true and it's about to happen on a small scale in the North Bay town of Bolinas where there are nearly 2,000 residents.

"It turns out when we started looking into it it's not that difficult it's just nobody was doing it," says Engestrom who along with executive Cyrus Harmon raised at least $300,000 dollars and partnered with UCSF.

Both live in Bolinas and had read an article about an Italian town called Vo doing the same thing. They've spent a month trying to get to the point where testing could begin and now it's about to happen.

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The testing will start Monday for the more than 1,600 people in Bolinas who have signed up.

"We're doing this in a way where we don't think we're taking tests away from anybody else that might need one," says Harmon.

UCSF says this is part of a study to learn more about the virus in all areas. A rural town like Bolinas and an urban setting like San Francisco's Mission District where COVID-19 tests will be performed starting next Saturday.

"We don't know if there have been a lot of people infected we don't know that and we don't know if we have much immunity we have no idea," says Dr. Aenor Sawyer from UCSF. She hopes that the results from these tests will help on a broader level and lead to more city, county, and statewide testing.

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"All our public health decisions, including when it will be possible to relax regional and statewide shelter-in-place orders, are driven by rough assumptions about how this virus behaves based on very limited data," said Greenhouse, an associate professor of medicine at UCSF and a CZ Biohub Investigator. "Studying in detail how the virus has spread in these two distinctive communities will give us crucial data points that we can extrapolate to better predict how to control the virus in similar communities nationwide."

"We asked ourselves could we do this in a way that wasn't going to take resources away from county departments of public health or other critical testing programs and we did our homework and found out the answer was yes," says Harmon.

The COVID-19 testing will begin at 9 a.m. Monday morning in Bolinas's Mesa Park.

"This study stands to benefit people at three levels - individuals who will get to learn their disease status, the community for the opportunity to isolate and eradicate the virus, and worldwide through improved ability to understand how this virus spreads," said Aenor Sawyer, MD, MS, a Bolinas resident and UCSF orthopedic surgeon who has served as project medical director and a liaison between Bolinas community members and university researchers. "This effort has been made possible by extraordinary volunteerism and partnership between the community, local agencies, public health officials, UCSF staff and students, and many others. We hope that this effort can provide a reproducible model for how other communities can build partnerships to provide rapid and comprehensive pop-up testing to their residents, as UCSF begins assisting with testing capability statewide."

More information on the COVID-19 testing in Bolinas can be found here.

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