Demand for COVID-19 tests evident at testing tent in South Palm Springs

Area residents looking to be tested for COVID-19 are scrambling to find methods, reporting a scarcity of take-home tests, long waits for appointments, and other barriers. But Joshua Berk has a solution.

Berk has been operating a testing tent outside Smoke Tree Village Shopping Center off East Palm Canyon Drive for three months. Lately, lines have started to form as word spreads that no appointment, no money, and no proof of insurance is needed to be tested for the disease.

“We are doing about 50 a day right now,” Berk said Thursday morning as a line began to form at his tent. “We had been steady at about 20 a day until recently.”

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Demand is higher for many reasons, Berk explained. First, it’s peak holiday travel time, and many travelers must show proof of a negative test within the past few days when they land at their destinations. Second, many employers require testing every three days, especially for those who choose not be vaccinated, and have increased enforcement as the Omicron variant continues its rapid spread.

Berk’s testing site is aligned with a medical group more experienced with pain management and addiction treatment than infectious disease. The entire Palm Springs operation fits in the trunk of a car. So you wouldn’t blame anyone for questioning its legitimacy. But the test results are real and valid, done by a laboratory in Houston, as is the nonprofit behind the effort,, which is in good standing with the California Secretary of State.

“There was nothing here that was free and easy,” Berk said, explaining why the nonprofit, based in San Diego, expanded to Palm Springs. “We’re just trying to ensure travelers can get home.”

Joshua Berk helps administer a COVID-19 test at a tent set up near the Ralph’s Grocery Store in the Smoke Tree Village Shopping Center Thursday morning.

That assurance usually arrives in the form of a text or email within 48 hours of testing at the East Palm Canyon Drive site. And while the test results may not be delivered as quickly as some hope, the testing itself takes only minutes. Berk simply pops the cap off a tube, collects saliva, and overnights the tube to the Houston lab.

“We use a system called PreciseQ,” Berk said, explaining the technology behind the testing. “I don’t even see the results. You just spit in the tube and the results come 48 hours later, sometimes a lot quicker.”

Collecting details needed to map each test taker with results takes the bulk of the time for visitors to Berk’s tent. If you have insurance, he will need that information, but you will not receive a bill. If you don’t have insurance, that’s fine as well, as the test is free.

“You can take as many tests as you like,” Berk said. “It’s free. Some people come back two times a week if that’s what they need.”

More information: The COVID-19 testing tent is located outside at 1801 East Palm Canyon Dr. It’s open from 9:30 AM until 5 PM, Monday through Friday. To make an appointment at any of the free testing locations in Riverside County, visit this website. The city of Palm Springs offers this website with a list of all testing locations in the Coachella Valley, including major pharmacies and health clinics.

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