SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – After opening hours at several COVID test sites in San Francisco were temporarily reduced due to staffing issues, statewide computer problems forced health officials to completely close six test centers on Monday afternoon, and service could be suspended for even longer.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health tweeted at 1:30 p.m. that the city of Color’s COVID-19 test partner’s computer problems resulted in a number of locations being closed.
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On Monday evening, Color tweeted from Palo-Alto that the service would be suspended until Tuesday due to outages and that people with postponed appointments would be contacted with alternative test options.
Due to failures affecting our software, we have temporarily suspended the service at our @ SF_DPH test locations until Tuesday, 1/11. When your appt. was postponed to Mon 1/10 or if you have an appt. for Tuesday 1/11 we will contact you by e-mail / SMS with alternative test options.
– Color (@Color) January 11, 2022
The computer difficulties weren’t limited to San Francisco.
The test locations that closed were Alemany, SOMA (7th / Brandan), Southeast Health Center, 20 Norton, Ella Hill Hutch, and Bayview Opera House.
UPDATE: Due to a nationwide computer problem at our COVID-19 test provider @Color, 6 test locations will be closed today: Alemany, SOMA (7./Brannan), SEHC, 20 Norton, Ella Hill Hutch and Bayview Opera House. Please do not visit these pages for testing at the moment. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/SyoT3DTo07
– SFDPH (@SF_DPH) January 10, 2022
“We’re working with Color to accommodate those who had appointments today,” read a subsequent tweet. “We’ll provide updates as soon as we learn more and have the next steps.”
Local residents were advised to refer to an online list of other test locations in San Francisco.
Color shared the following statement about the failure:
“We have temporarily suspended service at our test locations in San Francisco until the end of today to ensure that people don’t have to wait unnecessarily. We manage intermittent outages that have impacted our patient registration and sample collection software, and our team is actively working to resolve this situation. We will restore service to these locations as soon as possible. For those whose dates have been postponed today, Color will be in touch with alternative test options. Please do not access these websites for testing at this time. Don’t call 911 or go to the emergency room unless it’s a medical emergency. We apologize for the stress and inconvenience this caused. “
The issues also emerged in Hayward, another city that has partnered with Color for their COVID test locations.
Problems started around 9:00 a.m. Monday morning at the Cherryland COVID testing facility on Mission Boulevard in Hayward when nurses noticed a slowdown in the computer system. The check-in process, which can usually be completed in seconds, took more than ten minutes per patient.
The Hayward site also took advantage of Color Labs, whose website was repeatedly frozen and unresponsive on Monday morning.
The system worked intermittently before staff decided to close the site around 1 p.m. early Monday afternoon.
“We did it! Thank you God!” exclaimed McGee. “They said they would cancel everything. We weren’t happy about that. “
At 1 p.m., nonprofit service provider La Familia – who runs the website – shut it down and told the hundreds of people in line to go home. Aaron Ortiz, CEO of La Familia, said the site had similar problems last week.
“We need to have a meeting with the state lab and we need to have a meeting with the county to see what the next steps are,” he said. “We just can’t keep allowing this to happen to the church. Or I have to see if I can switch to another laboratory. “
Rosa Cruz waited several hours for a test before she was rejected. Her employer requires a negative test before she can go back to work.
“We can not do anything. So we won’t be available to go to work, ”said Cruz.
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Ortiz said that despite the increased demand for testing, Color should be able to perform its services as promised.
“I understand we have an uphill climb and the system is overloaded,” said Ortiz. “But if you want to do this job, you have to be ready and willing to take on this kind of load at the same time.”
The frustration increased as more and more people, with varying degrees of success, tried to find a way to get a COVID test.
“I wanted to visit my family and when I tried to book one I was only able to do it for two weeks,” said Clare Fonstein of Walnut Creek. “The ones that were quick and available now had to pay you, so it was quite difficult to figure them out.”
Dave Jah visited the Bay from Los Angeles. He recently had the stress of getting a test to see his brother.
“Both in San Diego, where he goes to school, and in LA, we can’t find any tests within five miles,” he said.
Back in San Francisco, the health department had previously announced that it was suffering from a labor shortage related to an increase in Omicron cases among employees, forcing the department to temporarily reduce working hours at four test sites.
Health officials said the short-term reduction would result in about 250 tests being lost per day. The current 7-day average at SFDPH-affiliated locations is 6,000 tests per day.
“(The) SFDPH-affiliated test sites will experience temporary reduced hours due to COVID-related staffing shortages and due to an increase in test result turnaround times given the high demand for laboratories across the country,” health officials said in a press release.
One of the locations, the Southeast Health Center, will only see a reduction in opening hours on Monday and then resume normal operating hours on Tuesday.
The other three websites affected were:
- Ella Hill Hutch – a three hour reduction in the afternoon – new opening hours: 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
- Alemany – a two-hour reduction in the evening – new opening times: 8 am-6pm
- SOMA (7./Brannan) – shortened by three hours in the morning from Tuesday – new opening times: 12 noon-6 p.m.
Given a steep spike in the demand for tests since early December, the number of tests being done at the sites has doubled, according to the San Francisco health authorities.
“We want to emphasize that we are assuming that this is a temporary period and that the sites will continue to operate well beyond their intended capacity,” officials said in the press release. “In addition, SFDPH is working to minimize the impact of this temporary reduction by allocating additional resources to increase capacity, including over 150,000 rapid tests that will arrive earlier this week.”
The SFDPH-affiliated sites currently account for approximately 60% of the tests conducted at on-site sites across the city.
Over the weekend, Dr. Susan Ehrlich, Chief Executive Officer Zuckerberg San Francisco General, said her emergency room was overwhelmed with people checking for COVID tests.
“We have never seen anything like this in previous surges,” she said. “So please don’t call 911, don’t go to an emergency room either because you want a COVID test or because you have mild COVID symptoms.”
“Most cases of COVID are mild and you can stay home,” added Ehrlich. “If you have symptoms, when you feel sick, you should stay at home, take care of yourself, and try to stay away from other people as much as possible.”
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Betty Yu contributed to this report