COVID-19 testing and vaccinations

SF Pride 2023: How to Safely Enjoy the Party

BART officials say there will be more service for this year’s Pride Sunday than for any previous year, opening at 8 a.m. that day and running a five-line service until 9 p.m. “with added special event trains as ridership warrants.” After 9 p.m., that service will be reduced to a three-line service.

Expect crowding at BART stations near the parade, as well as in the train carriages (a reason you might consider bringing an N95 mask along). BART recommends using Montgomery Street and Powell Street stations instead of Civic Center or Embarcadero stations, for this reason.

What to know about accessibility at Pride

Accessible viewing areas at Pride

Sunday’s Pride parade has an accessible parade viewing area, which organizers say provides “unobstructed parade viewing” for free, for individuals plus one guest. This seated parade viewing area at the parade grandstands also has accessible restroom facilities. You can request a spot for you and a guest using this Google Form.

Pride organizers say the parade’s main stage also has a seated viewing platform with ASL interpretation, and that wristbands for this area will be available at the Pride information booth on Fulton Street at Larkin Street. Find more information about accessibility at Pride.

BART and accessibility

All BART stations have accessible elevators, but being prepared for issues with those elevators is a good idea. You can sign up for BART alerts to be notified if there’s an issue with the elevator at the station you’re planning to use to attend Pride, or check the status of elevator operations at any station by calling (510) 834-LIFT or (888) 2-ELEVAT.

If you discover that an elevator is not working at a particular station you’re planning to use, call the BART Transit Information Center to get information about transit alternatives at (510) 465-2278 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday.

In a statement about accessibility, Pride organizers say the event has a “zero-tolerance policy for harassment, discrimination, or any form of violence,” and that Pride security personnel, “in collaboration with law enforcement, will be vigilant in enforcing these guidelines and addressing any inappropriate behavior.”

A wooden box hanging on a bar wall is open, with medication, cups, instructions inside.
A harm-reduction box created by Josh Yule hangs on the wall at Mothership bar in San Francisco on April 11, 2023. The boxes include Narcan and instructions on how to administer it, along with fentanyl test strips. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Always test your drugs

In the past few years, there’s been a spike nationwide of accidental fentanyl overdoses. Many party drugs, including cocaine and molly, are increasingly laced with fentanyl. Just in San Francisco, hundreds of people have already lost their lives this year due to fentanyl overdoses.

Kate Franza, who leads the behavioral health services team at the San Francisco Community Health Center in the city’s Tenderloin District, says it is very common nowadays to find other drugs laced with fentanyl and that if someone is going to consume drugs like cocaine or molly, they should very much consider the possibility that there may be fentanyl present.

“We don’t want folks to be anxious,” she said, “but we want folks to know that there’s ways that they can prepare themselves and do things to be safe so that they can check if their drugs have fentanyl in them and then make an informed decision.”

Consider testing ahead of time

If you know you will be taking drugs this weekend, Franza says one way to reduce the risk of being exposed to fentanyl is bringing your own substances that you have already tested and know are free of fentanyl. That way, you avoid consuming from unknown sources at places, like a crowded party, where it might be harder to test.

Testing, Franza says, is critical. “Because if your drugs are cut with fentanyl, you can die. It can trigger an overdose. It can trigger death,” she said. “And if folks feel shame or embarrassment, they can test privately as long as they have the strips.”

Know about Narcan

Franza also recommends bringing your own water and a Narcan kit. Narcan is the brand name for a naloxone nasal spray that is administered to someone when they are experiencing an opioid overdose (that includes fentanyl).

Anyone can buy and apply Narcan. You can buy a Narcan kit at a pharmacy without needing a prescription, and you can also get it free of charge at the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Community Behavioral Health Services pharmacy at 1380 Howard Street. The pharmacy is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“Mixing various substances increases the risk of access to fentanyl, but [also] overdose with uppers and downers,” said Franza. “Be mindful of making decisions as best as you can about what drugs you want to do and minimize mixing.”

Set up a buddy system

Your friends are key in keeping you safe, especially when you’re taking harder drugs, adds Franza. She recommends setting up a buddy system where each person reminds the other to test whatever you will be taking, drinking enough water and having emergency contacts ready if additional help is needed. Additionally, if you made a plan for the weekend, including specific limits of what you will consume and when, a friend can help you remember this information when you may not be sober.

“If you’re planning on going out a lot during Pride, you may want to set some limitations because each time you do it, it’s harder on your body,” Franza said. “Another strategy is buying less. The likelihood of you doing more if you have it on you is higher. So if you buy less, it’s essentially one step further to have to purchase more.”

What to know about Pride and mpox

What is mpox, and why should you be vigilant for it?

In the summer and fall of 2022, an outbreak of the mpox virusformerly known as monkeypox — hit the United States. This virus particularly affected gay and bisexual men, as well as trans and nonbinary people who have sex with men, in California.

After a mass vaccination effort led both by organizers from the LGBTQ+ community and public health officials, the rate of mpox infections dropped to virtually zero in California. But in May, with Pride around the corner, an outbreak in Chicago that resulted in 13 suspected or confirmed cases prompted Bay Area health officials to once again urge local communities to be vigilant for the virus ahead of Pride — and to seek out the free mpox vaccine.

Cases of mpox have remained low in the Bay Area since last summer’s outbreak, and health officials in the city aren’t seeing any rise that’s giving them cause for concern, says Dr. Stephanie Cohen, director of HIV prevention for the Population Health Division at SFDPH. But with a huge number of gatherings and celebrations planned — not just over Pride weekend but well into the summer and fall — and also the volume of visitors to the city arriving for these celebrations from other parts of the state and the country, Cohen stresses that she and her colleagues in Bay Area public health will be remaining vigilant and cautious about mpox.

Small orange discs appear to float in a dense, thick brown substance.
Colorized transmission electron micrograph of mpox virus particles (orange) found within an infected cell (brown), cultured in a laboratory. (NIH-NIAID/Image Point FR/BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

If I haven’t got an mpox vaccine, is it too late?

It’s definitely not too late, and you should “absolutely” get a free mpox vaccine if you want one, says SFDPH’s Cohen — even if your first dose is coming just days or even hours before Pride.

“The body will start producing the antibodies really soon after the vaccine is given,” said Cohen. “And some protection against mpox is definitely better than no protection against mpox.” Cohen also points out that although the vaccine doesn’t offer 100% protection against contracting mpox, “what we’re seeing is that people who got infected with mpox after having been vaccinated … have a much less severe illness.”

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, infectious disease expert at UCSF, echoes this recommendation to get your mpox vaccine to keep yourself and the community safer — noting that not only does immunity start building quickly, but that the virus also has a longer incubation period than say, COVID.

This means that even if you get your vaccine within just a few days of exposure, “your body starts making immune cells that start to work,” said Chin-Hong — and the mpox vaccine can also “be used in a post-exposure prophylaxis situation (PEP), not just for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP).” And while your immediate thoughts may be on mpox exposure during Pride weekend, there are multiple Pride events happening all over the Bay Area for many months. “So think of it as an insurance policy beyond Pride in SF,” he advised.

Where can I find an mpox vaccine?

There are several places across the Bay Area to find a free mpox vaccine, which comes in two doses one month apart. Find an mpox vaccination clinic near you.

There are no longer any limitations on who can get an mpox vaccine: In 2022 public health officials were originally only offering vaccines to people who’d been exposed, or were categorized as higher risk, but all those eligibility criteria are no longer in effect. If you want an mpox vaccine, you can get one — free.

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