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Coronavirus testing intensifies in Sonoma County, while some clinics cite shortage of test kits

How To Reduce Your Risk

Local health officials urge practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a respiratory virus, such as the flu or coronavirus. This includes:

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

• Avoid touching your eyes and face

• Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow

• Stay home when ill

• Get a flu shot, and it's not too late this season

Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services

For more information, go to sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Information-About-Coronavirus.

Questions or concerns can be directed to the county's 24-hour information hotline at 211 or 800-325-9604. You can also text "COVID19" to 211211 for coronavirus information.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

As testing for coronavirus ramped up this week at Sonoma County hospitals and health centers, with some offering drive-up service, concerns emerged that limits on the supply of test kits are curbing the process infectious disease experts say is essential to capping the pandemic.

The tests, which amount to a quick throat and nose swab sent to a laboratory for analysis, are only available to registered patients of the health care organizations and authorized by a clinician.

Santa Rosa Community Health, which operates eight clinics around the city, has conducted 25 tests for the new coronavirus since it began drive-up testing last week.

Naomi Fuchs, the chief executive officer, said the organization's supply of test kits has so far met the demand from patients “with the highest risk and clear symptoms” of a viral infection.

But, she said, “there is a shortage of tests (kits) throughout the county.”

Dr. Sundari Mase, the county's top public health official, said Wednesday that a shortage of swabs has slowed testing and her team is working to get more shipments of them. She contended, though, there is no shortage of test kits.

So far, 196 coronavirus tests locally have been conducted by county, state and federal laboratories, said Mase, the county's interim public health officer. That number includes 159 tests done since last Thursday as part of the county's surveillance project at up to five local health centers to detect whether the virus was spreading within the community. Indeed, the first case of a county resident infected by an unknown source of local transmission was announced Saturday. This week five more local cases were confirmed, including two new ones Wednesday, bringing the total number of county residents diagnosed with coronavirus to six.

Local health care providers are largely hewing to the testing criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: fever, cough and shortness of breath, and adding a history of travel to coronavirus crisis areas around the world such as China - where the virus originated in December 2019 - Italy and Spain.

Dr. George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology at UC San Francisco, said high priority also should be given to residents of long-term care centers in the wake of a deadly outbreak at a Seattle area nursing home this month.

Health care workers warrant testing to avoid sidelining them for a 14-day quarantine, and tests also should be available to homeless people due to the threat of spreading the virus around the community, he said.

South Korea stabilized one of the world's worst coronavirus outbreaks by testing more than 200,000 people, Rutherford said.

Although the pace of testing activity is picking up daily, still only a fraction of the county's population of about 500,000 has been tested.

Kaiser Permanente started a drive-through coronavirus testing program in Santa Rosa allowing patients who have a doctor's order to roll up and be swabbed by a health care worker in protective garb without leaving their cars.

Kaiser, which has multiple health centers in Santa Rosa, also has set up “other alternative sites” for coronavirus testing, said Michelle Gaskill-Hames, the senior vice president for hospital operations for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

She declined to name the locations out of concern crowds could come and interfere with private clinical appointments.

Kaiser, like Sutter Health, also would not say how many tests it expects to administer or whether it has turned away anyone who wanted a coronavirus test.

Sutter is collecting patient samples to test for the infectious disease in Santa Rosa “in accordance with CDC guidelines” that cite high-risk patients “such as those with certain preexisting conditions or social risks,” a Sutter spokesperson said in a statement.

Diahanna Post of Windsor, who was tested for coronavirus eight days ago at the recommendation of her Sutter doctor, emerged unscathed after the test results were lost and she opted to live mostly in a second-floor guest bedroom, apart from her husband and 9-year-old son.

“Now I feel great,” Post said Wednesday, back to working at home as an executive with the Nielsen television ratings company.

She was a prime candidate for testing, having been ill after business trips to Shanghai, China and Milan, Italy - both coronavirus hotbeds - in January and February, respectively.

Santa Rosa Community Health requires its patients to contact their primary care provider who will determine if their symptoms meet the criteria for testing, Fuchs said.

The baseline criteria are a fever, cough and shortness of breath, but underlying health conditions are considered, too, she said. The patient's physician will schedule an appointment for the test if it is warranted.

How To Reduce Your Risk

Local health officials urge practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a respiratory virus, such as the flu or coronavirus. This includes:

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

• Avoid touching your eyes and face

• Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow

• Stay home when ill

• Get a flu shot, and it's not too late this season

Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services

For more information, go to sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Information-About-Coronavirus.

Questions or concerns can be directed to the county's 24-hour information hotline at 211 or 800-325-9604. You can also text "COVID19" to 211211 for coronavirus information.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Patients can drive up to a tent in front of one clinic, which the organization declined to name, and be tested in their vehicles.

West County Health Centers also requires patients to be screened by a clinician over the phone and determined to have “symptoms consistent with COVID-19,” said Dr. Rain Moore, chief medical officer.

Tests are being conducted in the parking lots of selected clinics.

Patients may also discuss their condition by arranging a phone appointment with their provider. “More importantly, anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 is being asked to isolate in-home if they are stable,” Moore said.

Healdsburg District Hospital patients seeking a test must contact their doctor at the Healdsburg Physicians Group for authorization of a test that would be conducted at the physician's office.

Tests started last week and are not available to the public, said Gina Fabiano, a hospital district spokeswoman.

“We're not getting our order completely filled,” she said, when asked if the hospital had an adequate supply of test kits.

Patients with symptoms similar to a coronavirus infection, such as a cough or fever, should consult their physician, Fabiano said.

There are some “pretty strong” strains of the flu that cause symptoms comparable to the deadly pathogen, she said.

“There are a lot of coronaviruses,” Fabiano said. “This is not new to us.”

Like Santa Rosa Community Health, leaders of West County Health Centers cited a limited supply of test kits, prompting the health clinic system to restrict tests to their patients deemed essential workers and can't avoid public contact, at a time when most workers countywide have been ordered to stay home and all but essential businesses shuttered.

“Once more testing supplies become available, we can test more widely,” said Dr. Steve Bromer, chief medical officer.

Staff Writer Julie Johnson contributed to this story.

The Press Democrat wants to know what stories you see emerging and what you're experiencing locally during the shelter-in-place order. Reach out to us at coronavirus@pressdemocrat.com.

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