California town raises funds to test all residents for Covid-19 and antibodies

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When Jyri Engestrom, a 42-year-old entrepreneur who runs a small venture capital fund in San Francisco, California, read an article in the Guardian newspaper about an Italian village that tested his entire community for the novel coronavirus and was allegedly able to eradicate the virus by doing so, he was inspired.

Engestrom wanted to do the same for its community of Bolinas, California, a small seaside town about 13 miles from San Francisco with about 1,620 residents but no confirmed cases of Covid-19, according to local media.

Engestrom says he told a mutual friend about the item and that friend connected him to another Bolinas resident, Cyrus Harman, the founder of a pharmaceutical company who was also intrigued by the story.

Engestrom and Harman started communicating by SMS and later via phone calls. Soon, they recruited local volunteers, partnered with researchers from the University of California, the San Francisco Faculty of Medicine, and created a GoFundMe page on April 10 to raise funds for free testing. Covid-19 diagnostic and antibody tests for all residents of Bolinas.

Since then, the pair has raised more than $ 300,000 through donations from residents, with 93% of the 150 and more donations, all under $ 5,000, including $ 10 to buy equipment and build a city driving site. .

Despite their success working together, due to restrictions on home shelters, Engestrom and Harman were unable to meet in person until they toured the test site.

“The other volunteer organizers were surprised because everyone thought we were old friends,” Engestrom told Make It.

Free trials for residents of Bolinas began Monday and are expected to last until Thursday. To date, more than 70% of its residents have been tested, according to Engestrom.

“We tested 302 people on Monday and 416 [on Tuesday] and over 500 were planned for [Wednesday] Explains Engestrom.

UCSF researcher Bryan Greenhouse, who is leading the study in Bolinas that aims to gain a complete understanding of how the virus spreads, says that UCSF researchers use PCR swabs (amplification by polymerase chain) and take small blood samples to test for the presence of both. the new coronavirus and its antibodies. Both tests are provided and processed by the UCSF Chan Zuckerberg Biohub.

Greenhouse says he hopes to have as many Bolinas residents tested as possible, but the tests are voluntary.

“Our goal is to return the PCR results within 72 hours of receiving them in the laboratory,” said Greenhouse.

If a resident has a positive result, he will receive a call from a UCSF doctor to explain the next steps, which will include in detail who he has interacted with in recent days and how he plans to isolate himself during the 14 following days (if it does not). need urgent medical care). The delivery of negative results will be automated.

However, overall data on active Covid-19 infections is expected to be shared publicly next week, according to the Los Angeles Times. Antibody test data will take approximately four weeks to be available to the public.

Aenor Sawyer, a resident of Bolinas and a UCSF surgeon specializing in health technologies, also volunteers for the study. She says that starting Friday, her team will make home visits for residents who cannot make it to the test site.

“There is a significant disparity in socio-economic status here and 18% of our citizens are below the poverty line. We have worked hard to make sure that if you don’t have a car, if you don’t have a house or if you’re at home “bound, we will welcome you,” says Sawyer.

(According to city data, the median annual income in Bolinas is $ 56,250, which is lower than the country’s median annual income of $ 61,937.)

Although there have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Bolinas so far, Sawyer says residents of the city are “very anxious” as the median age of residents is over 60 years. (Severe cases of Covid-19 disproportionately affect older adults and the underlying health conditions.)

“We had a lot of symptomatic people, but we couldn’t test them,” says Sawyer.

In addition, Bolinas is a popular tourist spot for its beach.

Engestrom says the community’s reaction to the free tests made him cry. “I lost count of the number of hands joined in” namaste “in the windows of the cars I saw” while people are lining up at the test site, he said.

Bolinas is not the only place tested for the study. Greenfield says that starting Saturday, the researchers will travel to the Mission District of San Francisco to begin testing all of its residents for active infections and antibodies.

The Mission District, which is more densely populated with more than 5,700 residents, has the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in San Francisco, or about 166 from Monday.

(Median income in the Mission district is $ 96,000 a year, according to city data, with 15.1% of households living below the poverty line.)

Greenhouse says residents in the District of Mission have yet to collect money for the tests, but they will likely be covered by USCF’s Biohub Chan Zuckerberg for research purposes.

Greenhouse says hope is to learn how widespread Covid-19 is in these communities and learn how to better stop the spread and hopefully create a role model for other communities in the future .

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