bolinas coronavirus testingbolinas coronavirus testing

A medical professional conducts tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bolinas on April 20.

Kate Munsch/Reuters


  • A rural northern California town outside of San Francisco is attempting to test all of its 1,600 residents for COVID-19 in what is one of the first cases of community-wide testing in the US.
  • Drive-thru sites are conducting diagnostic and antibody tests on people to check for the viral infection as well as the presence of antibodies, which could indicate that someone previously had it and recovered.
  • Both testing methods are key to identifying how the virus spreads and can help researchers in learning how to mitigate the pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A small, rural town in northern California is attempting to test every one of its residents for COVID-19 for free in what is one of the first cases of community-wide testing in the US.

Bolinas, California, an unincorporated town about 30 miles north of San Francisco, has a population of 1,600 residents, many of whom are older than 60 and therefore at a higher risk of being infected. 

Other US locales have conducted widespread testing within their communities, such as the Colorado town of Telluride which is testing residents for antibodies, though some results are currently stalled, as Business Insider’s Holly Secon reports.

But the town of Bolinas is striving for more comprehensive testing of its residents. Medical professionals are conducting both diagnostic and antibody tests to determine if a person currently has the virus and if they have antibodies present, which could reveal if the person had the disease and then recovered.

Both are crucial to pinpointing how the virus spreads, which is key to eventually safely reopening cities across the country and resuming some degree of normalcy.

Here’s how the town has conducted its testing.

The goal of the study is to understand the nature of the spread of the virus through rural communities, Dr. Aenor Sawyer, a town resident and orthopedic surgeon at UCSF who is involved in the testing in Bolinas, told the Guardian.

bolinas california coronavirus testing

Dr. Aenor Sawyer in Bolinas, California, on April 20.

Kate Munsch/Reuters


Source: The Guardian

The town is located in Marin County, a Bay Area county known for its wealthy residents.

A sign about being six feet apart is posted along the main road through Bolinas, Calif., Monday, April 20, 2020.

A sign about being six feet apart is posted along the main road through Bolinas, Calif., Monday, April 20, 2020.

Haven Daley


Bolinas is specifically known for those seeking exclusivity — it’s blocked in by water on three sides.

Two well-connected residents pulled some strings to bring in researchers from the University of California-San Francisco.

bolinas california coronavirus testing

Signs outside the town encourage people to shelter-in-place and stay away from their town on April 20, 2020 in Bolinas, California.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images


Bolinas resident and Finnish entrepreneur Jyri Engeström, who’s behind the San Francisco-based early-stage venture capital firm Yes VC, and biotech exec Cyrus Harmon helped establish a partnership with infectious disease experts at UCSF to conduct testing on the town.

Source: The Guardian and The San Francisco Chronicle

But the testing isn’t covered by government funds. Instead, the town’s residents pooled together personal resources for large-scale testing.

bolinas california coronavirus testing

A sign outside a testing location in the parking lot of the Bolinas Fire Department on April 20 in Bolinas, California.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images


The local fire department offered up their station for a testing site, and PPE was sourced from local hardware shops.

And Engeström coordinated a GoFundMe campaign that raised about $300,000, according to The Guardian’s Maanvi Singh, to buy equipment and tents. Gaming company Zynga founder Mark Pincus pitched in $100,000 as well.

According to the Chronicle, town residents are aware that their community-wide testing was enabled by some of their wealth and influence, but that they believe this kind of testing should be available to everyone.

Other wealthy US communities have been able to accomplish this same kind of widespread testing because of economic status.

Drive-thru testing sites were set up in Bolinas on Monday, with a local nonprofit recruited to test elderly residents who cannot leave their homes.

bolinas california coronavirus testing

A testing location in Bolinas on April 20.

Kate Munsch/Reuters


Source: The Guardian

Here’s how the testing worked: Medical professionals drew blood from people that drove into testing bays through a finger prick for the antibody test.

bolinas california coronavirus testing

A testing location in Bolinas on April 20.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images


The presence of antibodies can indicate that someone had the disease and recovered, even if they didn’t exhibit symptoms.

There’s also the diagnostic test, which involves a mouth and throat swab that can detect if the virus is currently active in someone.

bolinas california coronavirus testing

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A testing location in Bolinas on April 20.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images


Both tests are crucial to identifying the pattern of the spread of the virus, which is key to eventually reopening cities across the US that are currently shut down.

bolinas california coronavirus testing

A testing location in Bolinas on April 20.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images


It’s worth noting that it’s not mandatory for residents to get tested, but researchers and organizers are aiming to make the testing as accessible to people as they can. There are currently no confirmed cases of the virus in the town.

bolinas california coronavirus testing

A testing location in Bolinas on April 20.

Kate Munsch/Reuters


Just on Tuesday, 487 people were tested. The testing will wrap up on Thursday.

Source: The Guardian

A similar project is in the works for a portion of San Francisco’s Mission District.

mission district, san francisco, hipster

The Mission District in 2015.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider


Much of the contact tracing that has been conducted in the city has led back to the predominantly Latinx neighborhood. Organizers are aiming to test people in the district starting on Saturday.

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