San Francisco Runs Out Of COVID Tests Ahead Of Thanksgiving

Hawaii-bound passengers heading out of San Francisco Airport this Thanksgiving weekend, be warned. You’ll need to get your COVID-19 testing organized. If you were planning to do it at the airport and haven’t already booked an appointment, you’re out of luck. The rapid result COVID-19 testing center at San Francisco Airport is fully booked out this week.

The COVID-19 testing center at San Francisco Airport is fully booked out ahead of the Thanksgiving Weekend. Photo: United Airlines

San Francisco Airport began offering rapid result COVID-19 testing for airport employees back in August. In October, that facility became available to Hawaii-bound United Airlines passengers. That came after Hawaii relaxed its quarantine rules, allowing passengers with a negative COVID-19 test result to skip the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Ahead of the Thanksgiving weekend, prospective travelers are scrambling to book tests at the airport. But there are no more appointments available at San Francisco Airport’s COVID-19 testing center between now and Thanksgiving. The clinic is also not accepting walk-ins this week.

Both United Airlines and San Francisco Airport are directing prospective Hawaii travelers to the offsite COVID-19 testing facility, located on Highway 101 near the airport. However, if this your plan B, you’d better get your skates on and head over soon. Unlike the airport testing facility, this offsite facility takes 48 hours to return a result.

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Prospective travelers directed to an offsite COVID-19 testing center. Photo: United Airlines

Travelers taking to the skies despite warnings not to

The upcoming Thanksgiving weekend is shaping up to be the busiest travel weekend in the United States since the COVID-19 outbreak.

This is despite the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urging the public to avoid travel over the weekend. California has also issued a travel advisory urging against non-essential out-of-state travel.

Normally, the Thanksgiving weekend is one of the peak travel periods in the United States. But this year, passenger movements won’t be at their usual bumper levels. Last weekend, the weekend before Thanksgiving, the TSA would typically expect to see two to three million travelers a day move through airports across the United States. Last Saturday and Sunday, the numbers were more like one million each day nationwide.

Over the last weekend, San Francisco Airport processed just 60,000 travelers, down 75% on the 240,000 travelers who passed through the airport in the same weekend last year.

It’s a mixed result for airlines and airports. One million passengers a day is way up on the daily numbers earlier this year. However, this Thanksgiving weekend isn’t shaping up to be as busy as they’d originally hoped for.

Airlines are anticipating a good rather than a bumper Thanksgiving weekend. Photo: United Airlines

COVID-19 testing infrastructure not up to coping with increased travel demand

More states are joining Hawaii and requiring a COVID-19 test to skip quarantine upon arrival. This week’s logjam at San Francisco Airport’s testing facility indicates infrastructure isn’t yet up to the job of coping with travelers heading to those states.

Hawaii and Alaska were the first states to require inbound travelers to have a negative COVID-19 test result to skip quarantine. That saw airlines serving those destinations set up COVID-19 testing facilities up and down the west coast, including at San Francisco Airport. Now, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Chicago also require a negative COVID-19 test result to bypass quarantine rules.

That’s going to hobble passenger demand over the Thanksgiving weekend. Booked out testing centers at airports aren’t going to help either. With a fair portion of the traveling public unwilling to travel, airlines are keen to get onboard those who are willing to fly.

But internal border restrictions in the United States and a lack of rapid result COVID-19 testing centers at airports will continue to impede the rebound of travel demand, even among those who would like to travel.