This Marin County town offering coronavirus testing to every resident

A kayaker paddles out as a fisherman returns in Bolinas Bay.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The remote Bay Area town of Bolinas is among the first communities in the world to attempt to test all of its residents for the novel coronavirus.

Bolinas, population 1,600, will offer free tests Monday through Thursday to residents 4 years and older, according to a statement from UC San Francisco, whose staffers will administer the tests.

The community-wide testing effort was spearheaded by two locals, venture capitalist Jyri Engestrom and pharmaceutical company executive Cyrus Harmon. Nearly the entire town was registered for testing as of Friday, according to the Mercury News.

The drive-through test will entail a mouth and throat swab to check for active infection and a finger prick to detect antibodies, a crucial step in determining who has already had the virus. A second round of testing will follow two weeks later if enough money is raised.


The project is expensive, costing upward of $400,000 and entirely funded by private donations, the Mercury News reported.

Few communities globally have attempted to implement comprehensive testing. And those that have tend to be small, tight-knit and progressive-leaning, such as Bolinas and Telluride, Colo.

Bolinas organizers were inspired by the Italian town of Vo’, outside Venice, which was able to gain control of the virus’ spread through two rounds of community-wide testing.

A team of infectious disease doctors at UC San Francisco will analyze the collected samples to gauge the prevalence of infection in Bolinas. The study will also help researchers trace the spread of the virus in California, the university said.

Effective testing is considered essential before state and local governments can lift stay-at-home orders, reopen schools and businesses, and allow the nation’s faltering economy to recover.

Diane Havlir, head of UC San Francisco’s HIV/AIDS division, said in a statement that testing sets the foundation for every other component of the pandemic response.


“In order for us to respond effectively,” she said, “we need more local community epidemiology like this study to get a sense of where we stand, and where active infection may still be occurring, so as public health officials begin to release constraints on movements we can avoid resurgence of the disease.”