When Palo Alto announced that it was going to have free coronavirus testing twice a month, I thought that was great. I was proud of our city for doing something so good for residents during this terrible pandemic period that keeps on powering up.
And recently, with the infections climbing, I wondered if this city could have the testing three or four times a month -- at least until the virus incidents decline.
At the Dec. 12 city council meeting, Mayor Ed Shikada announced the test site would be moved from the Palo Alto Art Center to the Mitchell Park Community Center, and the tests would still be twice a month. Fine.
So I went to the city's home page, and on the right was a big banner listing of Coronavirus. It said the next testings would be Dec. 16 at the Art Center, Jan. 8 and Feb. 5 at Mitchell. One additional January date has been added. Click on the date to schedule an appointment. Appointments are first available a week in advance, and can be booked 3 or 4 days ahead if there are still openings.
And to make an appointment, well, that's where the small problems began. I clicked on "make an appointment." Click. The next window said, "schedule an appointment." Click. The next window asked if I have any of the following 10 symptoms -- shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, etc.). No. Click. Next: Have I had COVID-19 in the past three months? No. In the last 14 days...? We're familiar with these questions by now.
But the questions went on. Have I contacted my provider? No. Nevertheless, I was asked, Who is your provider and what is the address and telephone number? Next question: "I live in a..." (10 choices). "Do I work with any of the following?" No. "Do I work in any of the following sectors and have frequent contact with the following?" No. Next, social risk -- eaten in a restaurant? Had a friend over? Used public transportation? Etc. Next: Medical risk. Are you obese, have a lung or heart problem, are you pregnant? etc. Ten items.
So I finally was asked for my e-mail address. Gave it to them. They sent me to a scheduling link at my email address. I opened up email. And there was my scheduling button to push.
The available sites were DRIVE-THROUGH: SANTA CLARA COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS - LOT A
344 Tully Road, (Parking lot across from Gate B and Blue Arch)
San Jose, CA
MORGAN HILL COUNCIL CHAMBER BUILDING
17555 Peak Avenue, (Park and Walk inside)
Morgan Hill, CA
MILPITAS SPORTS CENTER
1325 East Calaveras Boulevard, (Park and Walk inside)
MOUNTAIN VIEW CENTER FOR PERFORMING ARTS
500 Castro Street, (Park and Walk inside)
Mountain View, CA
Three sites were closed, including the Palo Alto Art Center. I found I could have an appointment in Milpitas the next day at 10 a.m. or three days later in Cupertino. No phone numbers were available.
On one of these attempts to reach a live person, the city's website suggested calling city hall, and, of course, the telephone tree instantly answered. "If you want Parks and Recreation, Press #1, if you want Finance, press #...I can't remember the order or the digit to push, but it went to #8, which was the city manager's office. I pushed that and got the Planning & Transportation office. I tried again, same Planning office. And no live voice actually answered anything, because practically all city employees were working from home because of the COVID-19.
It goes full circle, doesn't it.
Obviously, the city signed on to a bigger testing appointment system, the Fulgent Booking System. The concept is great; the execution (i.e. using it) is time consuming (18 minutes total). Very definitely not user friendly.
The problems I encountered are fixable. The system should be streamlined: ask fewer questions (no, I am not pregnant), have a better way to make a local appointment before the system goes county-wide, and since this is all by phone, questions like who have you been recently exposed to are moot a week later.
And it's a shame the city's own telephone tree can't even give me the city manager's office. Has this been true for the last six months? Do city officials try to use their own system?
I know this has been a tedious rendition of my experience trying to sign on to get a COVID-19 test, and I apologize for the trite details, but efficiency seems to be diminishing these days.
Wikipedia can't do this to Palo Alto! I went on to their website to look up Palo Alto's square miles and toward the top a question,what the Spanish words "Palo Alto" mean in English.. "Tall tree," I said to myself. But Wikipedia said "Big Stick"
What an image letdown for such a wonderful, elegant, vibrant, fun community. Just think of telling your faraway friends, "I live in Big Stick, CA 94301.