Speed Test (copy)

A health care worker takes a sample for a Covid-19 PCR test during a drive-through testing clinic in 2020. 

Nearly two years into the Covid-19 pandemic and it’s time for another pivot toward embracing testing and vaccination hand-in–hand as a way to minimize the spread of the virus and avoid the closures of schools and businesses. Ultimately, pairing mitigation strategies could save lives.

That might be a hard message for those who are weary of the pandemic—which is probably most of us—but there are free and convenient ways to get tested in Monterey County. 

“We know there’s a certain amount of Covid-19 fatigue right now however the current spread of Covid (principally the delta variant) the imminent arrival of the highly infectious omicron variant, holiday travel and family gatherings make this a critical crossroads during the pandemic,” says Allen Radner, chief medical officer for the Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, by email.

“The more people who are fully vaccinated (including boosters) following mitigation strategies (such as masking and avoiding indoor crowds) and testing, the better it is for everyone,” he says. “These actions are not mutually exclusive–in fact, only by doing all of these can we potentially avoid another dangerous surge.”

Confirming a Covid infection could mean access to early treatment therapies, he says. It could also identify those with mild cases or who are asymptomatic. “This may be particularly important if anticipated contact with those at greatest risk of having a poor outcome if infected, such as the elderly or immunocompromised,” Radner says.

Experts are encouraging people, whether vaccinated or not, to test before traveling and then again three to five days after returning. Similarly with gatherings, it’s a good idea to test before and then again three to five days later.

Currently the Centers for Disease Control recommend testing three to five days after return from domestic travel for those who are not fully vaccinated. For vaccinated people, the CDC recommends testing if they develop symptoms after returning. (See the website for specifics on international and cruise ship travel.) The California Department of Public Health is deferring to the CDC in its travel recommendations.

Convenient free and "no cost" testing is available throughout Monterey County, both rapid testing and PCR testing (polymerase chain reaction; results can take a day or longer). A complete list of current locations is available from montereycountyvaccines.com. (“No cost” means they will bill insurance but there is no co-pay.)

There are state-supported sites for free PCR testing around the county, as well as other options, including from the company Virus Geeks, which provides free PCR tests with turnaround results of about a day, although it could take two days if there’s a rush of testing. Virus Geeks testing sites are located at the Monterey Regional Airport; the Portola Hotel and Spa, near Custom House Plaza in Monterey; and the Hartnell College Parking Lot 4, along West Alisal Street in Salinas. You will self-administer the test using a swab in the nostrils while an employee walks you through the process.

On the Monterey Peninsula, a company founded by two local doctors, Lightspeed Testing, is offering free rapid tests at several locations. To save time you can register ahead on the company website or walk-in and register on your phone. Like with the PCR tests, you’ll be given a swab to use in the nose as an employee watches and walks you through the process. Results are texted or emailed in 30 minutes.

Note that sites may be closed the day before Christmas and New Year's, and on the holidays themselves. 

Home tests with results in 15 minutes are now available for sale at pharmacies, but are very hard to find in the lead up to the Christmas holiday. Most pharmacies are already sold out with no new shipments expected until after Christmas. Expect the tests to fly off shelves ahead of New Year’s. Brands such as BiNaxNOW and QuickVue come in two-packs and go for just under $25.

Today, Dec. 21, the Biden Administration announced it will be sending 500 million home tests to any residents who ask for one starting in January, in hopes of slowing the omicron variant. A website is being created for people to make requests. There were no details available yet as to how many tests will be made available per person or household.

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