Hello travel-hungry friends,
A number of states / countries are requiring a negative Covid Test 72 hours before the flight. Should be simple, right?
Depending on where you live, it may be much harder than you think. Here’s my research, based on the Bay Area, going to Tahiti.
Task #1. Find out what Covid test is required by your destination.
In our case we are going to French Polynesia, which requires a Standard Covid test (aka PCR-RT or swab), and does not allow Rapid/Antigen or Antibody tests. The Tahiti Tourisme bureau spelled out the test needed and also included a comprehensive list of “conforming tests”.
Note that there are dozens of different tests with “PCR-like” names but they do not actually conform to the guidelines (of French Polynesia, at least). It is easy to get confused.
Task #2. Find out which tests guarantees the results of a PCR-RT test within 48hrs.
In our case we were looking for testing in the Bay Area, and finding a guaranteed 48hr turnaround was very hard. We used the SF Chronicle’s map of Covid testing sites, which was very comprehensive, but it does not stipulate A) the exact type of test; and B) the expected turnaround time. So I wasted a lot of time trying to call the testing sites.
Our observation is that many free tests sometimes provide result within 24-48hrs, but if suddenly labs are being swamped with tests, results can get delayed and take 5-14 days.
This was the case with Osita Clinic in Oakland, that provided Free PCR testing with results in 36hrs, but then the following week, their turnaround was backed up to a week+.
I consulted with One Medical, which is a membership health program to facilitate doctor visits & testing; but they could not guarantee a 72hrs result. I also called a number of other testing sites.
We booked an appointment with Color in Marin, which typically gives results in 24-48hrs, and seems to do a free PCR test; but upon closer analysis, they have a “Lamp” test which does not conform to the PCR test guidelines of French Polynesia.
Ultimately, after talking to many doctors and testing sites, to no avail, it was the French Consulate that provided us with the information.
They identified three places that could guarantee tests within 72hrs in the Bay Area (and might have other locations too), of which I verified two:
—> Arc Point Labs Martinez: guarantees 48 hr PCR test for asymptomatic travelers $275pp
—> My Doctor SF Medical Group: guarantees 24hr PCR test for $365pp
They aren’t cheap tests (cost per person!) but given that the information about testing sites in the US is so haphazard, that is the best we could do.
Be ready to shed $$$ for a test with guaranteed results if going to a destination with demanding testing criteria. Spend some time researching as it is hard to find the critical information.
There are phone apps that list where Covid testing sites are (such as ArcGis or Apple Maps) and they sometimes list the type of test, but rarely do they list the turnaround time for results.