Testing re-emerges as major challenge

A nursing student does patient check-in and hands out requisition forms allowing patients to get their COVID-19 test results online at Cal Expo in Sacramento. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

So you want a coronavirus test? Well, it may not be that simple.

This week, San Bernardino County canceled hundreds of appointments due to a shortage of materials. Five testing sites were shut down in Sacramento because UC Davis Health, which processes the tests, couldn’t procure enough kits. Unable to meet soaring demand, Los Angeles County asked residents to get tested only if they have symptoms, work in high-risk environments or were exposed to someone who tested positive. San Diego residents are waiting around a week to get a test.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is set to unveil a new state testing strategy today or Monday. He acknowledged Wednesday that “testing supply constraints are starting to present themselves.” 

  • Newsom: “We are now looking to really target and modify our testing criteria in a much more strategic way. … really targeting the most vulnerable members of our community, the most diverse parts of the state and still addressing some existing testing deserts … and obviously supply concerns.” 

Nevertheless, some of the state-funded sites in “testing deserts” appear to be at risk. The state has pulled sites where less than 50% of appointments are filled and denied counties’ requests to fund additional sites, citing high costs, California Healthline reports

And though the state is testing more than 100,000 people each day, up from 8,000 in March, it’s now grappling with a three-headed hydra of supply constraints, overwhelmed labs and delayed processing of tests. As a result, the state public health department asked labs on July 4 to prioritize processing tests from patients with symptoms and those in hospitals, nursing homes or prisons. 

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly: “These delays will present significant challenges in our ability to care for people in the hospital where testing helps us make appropriate treatment decisions, and our ability to appropriately isolate those who are sick in order to … cut transmission rates.”

The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, California had 296,499 confirmed coronavirus cases and 6,711 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

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