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