Large health care systems must offer COVID-19 testing in Santa Clara County

Santa Clara County officials say a new testing order handed down Wednesday is not punitive, but instead a preventative measure against a certainty coming like the heat of summer.

“We know lots more people are going to be gathering together. Be closer together. And potentially be exposed to COVID-19,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the Santa Clara County COVID-19 testing officer.

Starting 12:01 a.m. June 15, county health officers want all patients in healthcare systems to be tested for the coronavirus, even if they’re asymptomatic.

Under the order, larger health care systems must offer testing for all patients with COVID-19 symptoms, all patients who have come in close contact with a person who tested positive and all patients who are at higher risk of being exposed because they are frontline workers, regularly use public transit or have recently gone to a mass gathering. 

County leaders say they’re close to the goal of testing 4,000 people per day, at multiple locations. Officials want healthcare systems such as Kaiser and Stanford to do a better job testing all of its patients, regardless of medical insurance coverage.

“We’re not trying to be heavy-handed. We just wanna make sure everybody who needs a test, gets a test. Because it’s a dangerous time right now,” said Dr. Jeff Smith, the Santa Clara County Executive.

Late Wednesday, Dr. Christina Kong, Medical Director and Chief of Pathology Service for Stanford Health Care emailed a response to the county’s claim, which read in part, “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Stanford Medicine has been committed to supporting COVID-19 testing for the greater Bay Area community and to date has partnered with medical facilities across 14 northern California counties. “

Many health experts are concerned a COVID-19 case spike that’s hit other parts of the country, will arrive in the Bay Area within the next two weeks.

“I think that we already are. There have been a number of states that have seen pretty significant new increases in the number new cases, in the number of hospitalizations,” said Dr. Jake Scott, a Stanford Health Care infectious diseases expert.

He said with shelter-in-place restrictions easing, and more people lured outside by warmer weather, the number of COVID-19 cases will likely rise.

“Only a small percentage of people in the U.S. and even around the world have been infected,” said Dr. Scott. “There’s still a huge portion of the population that’s vulnerable to this.”

County officials say some of the vulnerable may have inadvertently been exposed to the virus during days of protests in the South Bay and beyond.

“We worry about them. We look at the pictures and we see some people with no masks. And people who are very close together. Other people who are screaming. And potentially spreading the virus,” said Dr. Fenstersheib.

Santa Clara County health officials advise anyone who was at a demonstration rally or march get tested. And say first responders should get tested at least once a month.