Bolinas, Calif., is testing every resident for Covid-19

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A medical worker administers a Covid-19 test at a testing site in Berkeley, California, on Friday, April 17, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., an entire town will be tested, regardless of whether or not someone is showing symptoms.

The testing is part of a research project put together by the Marin County community of Bolinas and the University of California, San Francisco. Tents are set up next to the town’s fire department, and Monday morning volunteers and researchers will collect samples from all 1,600 residents of the community near Stinson Beach.

The organizers of the project want to know how widespread COVID-19 is in the small town of Bolinas and how they can use that information to help other communities.

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“We’re testing for both active viral infections, via nucleic acid, PCR test and for antibodies to detect if people had previously been exposed to the virus,” said project organizer Cyrus Harmon.

Harmon, a Bolinas resident, works in the pharmaceutical industry. He’s one of three people who started the project about a month ago.

UCSF doctor Aenor Sawyer is also an organizer. She said the fact that Bolinas is a fairly secluded community is beneficial for researchers.

“It’s a very unique model in a fairly stable, rural and isolated ecosystem,” Sawyer said. “And we’re also being paired with a project happening in the Mission, so another community, but in an urban center.”

Researchers will take a nasal swab and a small amount of blood for both tests. The goal is to get every resident to participate.

“I haven’t heard of anyone who has not volunteered to be tested, to be quite honest with you,” one resident said.

Residents raised more than $300,000 to buy testing materials and set up the site. Organizer Jyri Engstrom said they hope this can serve as a template for other communities to follow.

“Really, you can see behind me it’s just a bunch of tents and a bunch of people who are willing to take samples and take them to a lab,” said Engstrom.

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