Mountain View's Center for the Performing Arts may not be putting on any shows lately, but it's becoming ground zero for free and easy-to-access COVID-19 tests.
County officials announced that testing will be available at the shuttered theater, located at 500 Castro St., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, and again on Tuesday, Oct. 6, and Oct. 20. Tests are available by appointment only, which can be made several days in advance.
The boost in available testing at Mountain View's Civic Center Plaza comes amid a countywide push to improve access to COVID-19 tests. The diagnostic tests are not only critical for curbing the spread of the virus, but are also required in order to ease public health restrictions imposed by the state of California.
The Sept. 23 testing will be sponsored by the El Camino Healthcare District, and will be hosted in the theater's rehearsal studio from 8:30 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. The tests are free, but only available to residents living within the health care district's boundaries. Appointments can be made online or by calling 650-940-7022.
Santa Clara County will be sponsoring the COVID-19 tests on Oct. 6 and Oct. 20, which will be available to anyone, regardless of where they live. Tests can be scheduled up to seven days in advance online, and results will either be emailed or texted within two to three days.
The county hosted its most recent all-day COVID-19 testing site at the performing arts center last week, guiding residents along a path snaking into the back of the building. On-site staff say the most popular time was in the morning, but by 11 a.m. there was no wait time and no line. Participants were able to sign in, get a nasal swab and be out in the building in the span of about a minute.
One of those participants was Henry Nesmith, owner of Los Altos Hardware. He said he's been getting tested frequently and encourages his employees to do the same. He said that testing lately has been remarkably quick and easy.
Nesmith said his business took a slow approach at first -- prohibiting all indoor customers for the first month and a half of the pandemic -- and that his staff has been mindful of good hygiene and social distancing, but testing is important when working with a churn of customers coming into the store.
"We have all just been super careful, but we do come in contact with our customers," he said.
Nesmith said he has taken the COVID-19 test four times now, and that it has gotten easier over time. Everyone showing up for a test is still taking the pandemic seriously, but he noticed that everyone has calmed down and seems to look at testing as a more casual affair.
Also getting a test on Sept. 15 was Mountain View City Council member Chris Clark, who had traveled to see family over the Labor Day weekend. He said he wanted to get tested before and after seeing people outside of his normal social circle, and that appointment system made it much easier to get in and out.
Santa Clara County's hospital system has conducted more than half of all COVID-19 tests to date, some of which is done using outside help. Lindsay Kehl, a nurse with Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said the county will be sending all the Mountain View test samples to the private firm Folgent, which will run the tests and return the results in a few days.
Unlike previous tests conducted using the lengthy nasopharyngeal swab, infamously described as the "brain tickler," tests are now typically done using a smaller one-inch nasal swab, Kehl said. Nasal swab tests used to have poorer accuracy for the asymptomatic cases, but have since improved and become more common.
Anyone who gets a test through the county may be asked for health insurance information, but no one will be billed for a co-pay or denied a test.
"Our goal is to test as many people as possible, regardless of insurance," Kehl said.