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Demand for COVID-19 tests and supply shortage straining Sonoma County communities

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

To track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world, go here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

An unprecedented surge in coronavirus transmission in Sonoma County — driven by the highly infectious omicron mutation — is straining COVID-19 testing capacity, with many local residents either unable to schedule a timely test or forced to wait hours in line to get one.

The increased demand for post-holiday COVID-19 testing has led to shortages of testing kits, materials and supplies locally, across the state and nation. In some cases, local businesses and health care providers are unable to access timely testing to get their staff back to work following COVID-19 isolation or quarantine periods.

“Even if we had enough staff between the different testing companies and the county, there is a shortage of actual tests right now,” said Dr. Kismet Baldwin, Sonoma County’s deputy health officer. “That’s the bottleneck for most states — California for sure — and in the county. ... There’s just not enough tests that are out there to administer.”

(Map: Find a nearby testing for COVID-19)

At a COVID-19 vaccination and testing clinic in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, the number of people seeking post-holiday testing has ballooned beyond available supplies, said David Powers, executive director of Fox Home Health, which operates the clinic.

Powers said the site, located at Sebastopol Road and West Avenue, usually did between 100 and 150 tests a day prior to the holidays. He said after the site resumed testing this week, following the New Year’s weekend, testing surged with 624 tests on Tuesday and 741 on Wednesday.

Powers said Fox Home Health has been forced to decline requests for testing services from local organizations because there aren’t enough testing supplies. He said at the Roseland site people from elsewhere in the Bay Area have shown up for a free test; the clinic serves all who come in for a COVID-19 vaccination or test.

Fox had already run out of PCR tests, the gold standard for COVID-19 testing, for this week, but received a shipment of 2,500 on Thursday. That’s half of what Fox had originally requested.

“The demand is higher than the suppliers are able to provide right now,” Powers said. “The county is our backup for testing supplies, but they’re having their own supply issues. Right now, everybody is scrambling for supplies because the demand is overwhelming.”

Testing volumes skyrocketing

By the end of 2021, there was an average of 723.6 tests per 100,000 Sonoma County residents. A week earlier, on Christmas Day, that rate was 516 daily tests per 100,000 people, according to county public health data.

During the final week of December, 26,339 tests were taken, the highest volume of weekly tests conducted at any time during the pandemic, according to county data. Curative, a national testing service, alone conducted 7,820 tests during that week, with Kaiser conducting another 3,758.

Curative is currently operating five kiosks and two mobile vans in Sonoma County, with each having a testing capacity of between 300 and 500 patients per day, according to Curative representatives in Northern California.

“Due to the current unprecedented demand coupled with staffing, we have metered appointments for this week and temporarily disabled walk-up registration,” Curative said in an email. “Since the week before Christmas, most of our sites have seen a 300% increase in demand. This is due to people wanting to test before and after holiday travel, needing to test before returning to school, and how infectious omicron is.”

The company said it hopes to release more appointments next week, as well as reinstating walk-in registration as soon as possible. Curative said 1 in 3 people who use its PCR testing services nationally are testing positive.

“That 33% positivity rate rings true for Sonoma County, as well,” the company said.

Testing bottleneck

Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner of Russian River Brewing Co., said the shortage of timely testing services is forcing her to keep Russian River’s locations in Santa Rosa and Windsor closed. The eateries had been expected to reopen on Friday for post-holiday business.

Cilurzo said that in the past two and a half weeks, the business has had 11 confirmed positive cases at both sites. She said a number of employees are either awaiting the results of pending tests or are trying to schedule a test.

“It’s totally crippling business,” Cilurzo said, adding that she is having to deliver rapid antigen tests to employees so they can get back to work. “That’s why we’re going to have to close again (Friday) ... primarily because we have so many employees out because of testing issues.”

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

To track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world, go here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, said he’s also hearing from several local businesses that the lack of testing is becoming a hindrance.

“It’s creating a huge bottleneck,” he said. “From international companies like airlines down to schools, it’s creating a problem all across the spectrum from business to general society.”

Elsewhere in the state, law enforcement and fire agencies are running into staffing issues due to both virus transmission within their ranks, as well as testing shortages.

In Southern California, a surge in COVID-19 cases has led to more than 800 Los Angeles city police and fire personnel having to go off-duty after testing positive, according to the Associated Press.

Local law enforcement agencies are not facing such dire staffing issues, at least not yet. However, the Santa Rosa Police Department has been struggling to schedule testing due to a lack of available appointments, said spokesman Sgt. Chris Mahurin. The agency hasn’t had any problems with delays in results, he added.

Mahurin said that as of this week, 10 officers are out after testing positive for COVID-19 and another 13 are out due to exposure.

Sgt. Juan Valencia, a spokesman for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, said that while that agency hasn’t experienced any delays in testing, the current surge in COVID-19 cases is becoming a concern.

“Public safety can’t shut the doors, and we have to operate 24/7,” Valencia said, adding that the Sheriff’s Office currently has four staff members who are out because of COVID-19, either in isolation or quarantine.

Dr. Panna Lossy, the medical director of advocacy organization IsoCare Network, said she believes the testing shortage and skyrocketing demand is undoubtedly hurting the county’s Latino residents and essential workers.

Since the start of the pandemic, local Latinos have been disproportionately impacted, with higher rates of infections and hospitalizations. Now, she said, they’re having trouble accessing testing resources.

At an IsoCare testing site that serves low-income residents, Lossy said positivity rates are much higher than the county’s overall rate, which is currently at 14.8%. IsoCare conducts about 150 rapid antigen tests a day.

“We’re seeing between 25% to 30% positivity,” she said. “The week before last, we had single-digit test positivity.”

Lossy said that until the current testing shortage is resolved, tests should be prioritized for those low-income essential workers, as well as teachers and health care workers and first responders.

“We have a test shortage. ... Right now, I really want to encourage people not to use their tests if you don’t need to,” she said. “Don’t use tests for kids’ birthday parties.”

Dr. Baldwin, the county’s deputy health officer, said that not everybody needs to be tested simply because “omicron is out there.”

Baldwin said testing should be used in cases where people have been exposed to a positive case; where someone has recently come back from travel; or when people are experiencing symptoms.

Dr. Sundari Mase, Sonoma County health officer, said those who are at high risk of severe illness, such as people with compromised immune systems, could also test if they’re concerned about some risky activity.

But, “if you have no reason to test, don’t test,” said Mase.

Dr. Leslie Kimura, the county’s deputy health officer in charge of the COVID-19 section, pointed out that a positive test result is a medical requirement for those seeking antiviral medications that are currently in extremely short supply. Testing delays and shortages could negatively impact those most at risk of severe COVID-19 illness, she said.

Press Democrat Staff Writer Colin Atagi contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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