Amid fanfare in March, California officials celebrated the launch of a multimillion-dollar contract with Verily — Google’s health-focused sister company — that they said would vastly expand coronavirus testing among the state’s impoverished and underserved communities.
But seven months later, San Francisco and Alameda counties — two of the state’s most populous — have severed ties with the company’s testing sites amid concerns about patients’ data privacy and complaints that funding intended to boost testing in low-income Black and Latino neighborhoods instead was benefiting higher-income residents in other communities.
San Francisco and Alameda are among at least 28 counties, including Los Angeles, where California has paid Verily to boost testing capacity through contracts collectively worth $55 million, according to a spokesperson for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. About half have received coronavirus tests through six mobile units that travel among rural areas.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has heralded the investment as a game-changer in addressing persistent inequities in access to testing across the state that tend to fall along lines of ethnicity and income. The goal, he said in April, touting six new Verily testing sites, was to “make sure we’re truly testing California broadly defined, not just parts of California and those that somehow have the privilege of getting ahead of the line.”
Yet the roadblocks for getting underrepresented populations to use the program soon became apparent to Alameda County officials. In a June letter to California Secretary of Health Mark Ghaly, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and other members of the county’s COVID-19 Racial Disparities Task Force raised numerous concerns about the Verily protocols.
Among their complaints: People signing up for a test through Verily had to do so online, using an existing or newly created Gmail account; the sign-ups were offered only in English or Spanish; and participants were asked to provide sensitive personal information, including their home address and whether they were managing chronic health conditions such as diabetes, obesity or congestive heart failure, which could expose their data to third-party use.
“It is critical in this crisis that we continue to build trust between government and healthcare providers and vulnerable communities,” the task force members wrote.
Verily had two sites in Alameda County, and one was shuttered by May. The second, located at an Oakland church, closed in August and is set to reopen using a different testing vendor. Alameda County testing director Dr. Jocelyn Freeman Garrick said that while the Verily sites helped the county reach testing goals in terms of raw numbers, they were phased out because of long wait times of a week or more for results, and because the tests were not reaching the residents in greatest need.
Verily does not manufacture the tests used at its California sites. It contracts with major corporations such as Quest Diagnostics and Thermo Fisher Scientific to provide
Stanford Medicine Launches Study Of Greater San Francisco Bay Area Using Safe, Convenient COVID-19 Testing From Home
STANFORD, Calif., Oct. 20, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — The Stanford University School of Medicine today announced the launch of the Community Alliance to Test Coronavirus at Home (CATCH) Study, an effort that seeks to estimate the true population prevalence of COVID-19 across the 8.5 million population of the greater San Francisco Bay Area, and ultimately aid in the effort to reopen schools, workplaces and communities.
The CATCH Study is now seeking participants. A key aim of the CATCH Study is to scale a simple, safe, convenient, and population-scale early diagnostic system to help stop further undetected spread of COVID-19. CATCH utilizes online surveys and home delivered self-collection kits that are able to be rapidly deployed to carry out remote testing in a broad and representative sample of the population, including those underserved and vulnerable populations that might otherwise not be reached or tested. The study is enabled by the Vera Cloud Testing Platform including its novel Vera Home Test Kit, a gentle nasal swab self-collection kit that can be delivered directly to the homes of study participants by existing couriers and package delivery services.
There is no cost to CATCH Study participation, and all residents in the San Francisco Bay Area are welcome to enroll. Every participant joins online, reports their symptoms and exposures to COVID-19 daily, and may also be offered a home test kit at no cost upon reporting. If accepted, within 24 hours a home test kit will be delivered safely and conveniently by express courier to their home, where they can self-collect a sample, which is then delivered to the Stanford Health Care laboratory and tested for SARS-CoV-2 infection. All tested participants are informed of their results privately and securely online via their personal password-protected account within the CATCH website. The unique approach removes any requirement to leave home or shelter-in-place.
The study is being led by Stanford Medicine researchers Yvonne Maldonado, MD, professor of pediatric infectious diseases and of health research and policy, Lorene Nelson, MD, associate professor of health research and policy, as well as Dr. Stephen Quake, professor of bioengineering and of applied physics and co-president of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub.
“We encourage as many Bay Area residents as possible to sign-up for the CATCH Study to help increase our knowledge of a virus that has had significant impacts on our communities,” said Dr. Maldonado. “Our main objective is to learn where and how the virus is spreading — whether people are displaying symptoms or not — and which communities are most vulnerable. These insights will help our scientists and local public officials gain a deeper understanding of the distribution of COVID-19 throughout the greater San Francisco Bay Area so that they can stop its spread.”
With the effects of COVID-19 disproportionately affecting minority and vulnerable communities throughout the country, and specifically in the Bay Area, one of the key intentions of the study is to address inequities in testing by researching underserved populations. The testing kits will provide
UC San Francisco released a preliminary analysis Thursday of data from a coronavirus testing effort in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood and it confirmed what other similar studies have found: The novel coronavirus disproportionately affects the Latino community.
UCSF, in conjunction with local community groups, offered free, voluntary COVID-19 testing Sept. 26 and 27 in Fruitvale, a corner of Alameda County that has had the highest rates of COVID. Fruitvale is 50% Latino and home to one of the largest Mayan-speaking populations outside of Mexico, according to UCSF. Many residents live in multigenerational households.