COVID-19 testing in California hits bump in road

If the ability for widespread testing for COVID-19 is a gauge of when life can eventually begin to return to normal, then the latest signs show that we have a problem.

“The one issue we are starting to run into is getting first responders tested on a rapid basis. Many of the test sites by noon are out of tests for the day,” Alameda County Fire Chief David Rocha said at a board of supervisors meeting. 
Similar issues are taking place across the Bay in San Francisco.
“If you try to get a test now in San Francisco, it can take up to twelve days sometimes longer even to get in and get the test let alone get your results," said Supervisor Matt Haney. 
The longer wait times for COVID-19 test results appear to be a fairly recent development said a co-founder of San Francisco-based company Carbon Health, which operates urgent care clinics across the states and testing sites in the Bay Area.
“We went from a 24 to 48-hour turnaround time to now five, seven or eight days,” said Dr. Caesar Djavaherian.
Health officials for the State of California Tuesday announced the creation of a testing task force that addresses the issue of test wait times and testing results.
“We have certainly see increased turnaround times issues that we want to address,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary for the California Department of Public Health.
To ramp-up testing and reduce the backlog of results, state health officials issued new, tiered guidelines on who is tested first.
At the top of the list are “hospitalized individuals with COVID-19 symptoms.” Tier 2 are those living or working in healthcare facilities that are displaying symptoms, while the third tier is reserved for those in the retail or manufacturing and tier four consisting of anyone else who wishes to be tested but don’t fall under the first three categories.
Another move to speed up testing will be to have health officials call up doctor offices and pharmacists to perform COVID-19 testing and to make sure testing is covered under insurance.
“We will also share the updated guidance and the new regulations that will require plans to pay for the costs of tests in most instances,” said Lourdes Castro Ramírez, secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.
State health officials say they also have a plan in place to speed up the return of testing results.
“Many of the UCs across the state, other academic partners, and some of the medium-size commercial labs do have the capacity and we’re working to match them up,” said Ghaly.
The California Public Health Department secretary also said the task force will also explore the possibility of pool testing, which is where samples from multiple people are analyzed at once.