Sonoma County expands testing for coronavirus at hospitals, clinics and urgent care centers
Sonoma County health officials are set to open a new front in the battle against the local spread of the novel coronavirus, turning to aggressive and coordinated testing at designated hospitals, clinics and urgent care centers.
The “enhanced surveillance” program is expected to test between 60 and 80 patients with flu-like symptoms - half of them otherwise healthy individuals and the other half with underlying medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes or compromised immune systems.
The purpose of the program is to more quickly determine if the new virus is currently being transmitted from person to person in Sonoma County, Dr. Sundari Mase, the county's interim health officer, said Wednesday.
Health officials are seeking to find out whether “we're having any coronavirus infections in the community that we haven't detected yet,” she said. “We're going from a passive to a more proactive response.”
The number of people tested by the Sonoma County public health lab had grown to the “low 40s” on Wednesday, Mase said. Sonoma County has a population of about 500,000. There have been no new positive cases of coronavirus since Saturday, when the county began local testing.
Officials said local testing for coronavirus has shifted to the county's lab, bypassing federal and state sites, which has accelerated the process to a 24-hour turnaround.
The county's three confirmed cases of coronavirus infection involved people who were hospitalized in late February or early this month before local testing began. All were passengers on a pair of cruise ships stricken with coronavirus. County health officials, citing federal privacy laws, would not reveal the conditions of the infected patients, or where they are being treated.
The trio includes two county residents being treated in the intensive care unit at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. One of them is in critical but stable condition, according to a hospital source. The third is a patient who was transfered from Travis Air Force Base.
Mase, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin and Director of Sonoma County Emergency Management Chris Godley held a virtual town hall Wednesday night, where they answered questions from the community about the coronavirus. During the town hall, Mase emphasized that Sonoma County has not had seen any cases of community transmission, which occurs when a person contracts the virus even though they have not traveled to a country where the virus is circulating or had contact with another confirmed case. If the county detects cases like that, then officials will shift from containment to mitigation efforts, she said.
While the county has advised the cancellation or postponement of large indoor gatherings for people 60 or older, it has not closed any senior living facilities off to the public or instituted any legal mandates for organizations to cancel large events, Mase said.
“We're going to approach this with the seriousness that it deserves, but we're not jumping the gun,” Gorin said during the town hall. “Practice caution and use your common sense until and if we have that level of emergency.”
Mase said the new testing project will take place at three to four medical facilities dispersed throughout the county. Facilities could include urgent care centers, clinics and hospital emergency departments, she said.
“We almost have it in place. Hopefully we can start (Thursday) or at the latest, Friday,” she said.
On Wednesday, Mase confirmed that commercial labs Labcorp and Quest Diagnostics are now “up and running” and conducting tests in Sonoma County. Those commercial labs are required to report positive coronavirus test results, she said. No positive tests from commercial labs have been reported, she added.
A recent change in testing guidelines now allows health officials to conduct only one test per patient, where two were previously required by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two swabs, one from the nose and one from the throat, are taken and analyzed in a single test.
The change allows health officials to conduct twice as many tests with each test kit, she said.
Even as local health officials expand testing and commercial labs also begin testing, one local physician expressed frustration about his efforts to get his patients tested.
The physician, who asked to remain anonymous because he did not want to jeopardize his relationship with local hospitals, said the promise of widespread physician-ordered testing has been hindered by CDC missteps, bureaucracy and the lack of test kits.
“We can't test anyone we want yet,” he said. “I'm speaking as of (Wednesday). ... We're still not there because we don't have enough kits.”'
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