Sonoma County residents line up for COVID-19 tests before Thanksgiving
Jimmy and Katie Donaghy aren’t giving up on Thanksgiving despite the coronavirus pandemic.
They’ve already got their turkey, so that’s one less trip to the store between now and the holiday. And Wednesday, the Santa Rosa couple went together to the Jockey Club for COVID-19 tests, hoping to host about a dozen people next week for an outdoor dinner — assuming everyone tests negative before Thanksgiving and stays safe for the next several days.
“We’re just going to be on lockdown,” said Jimmy Donaghy, who works for Sonic.
Sonoma County residents are lining up for coronavirus tests at state-run test sites in Santa Rosa and Windsor and about a dozen pop-up county-run test sites as the holiday season gets underway. Although the county aims to provide results within three days, lab results can take several days to come back.
The goal — staying sane by being social while remaining safe — is shared by many, with Thanksgiving right around the corner and the virus all around us.
Many are hoping a negative test result will allow them to safely share a traditional Thanksgiving meal with family and friends. But public health officials are concerned the tests will provide a false sense of security as colder weather drives people indoors, where COVID-19 is most successful at spreading from person to person.
“I think there will be a rush to get tested because people want to know their test statuses,” said Dr. Sundari Mase, Sonoma County’s public health officer.
Mase does not expect to see significant changes in turnaround times at the county’s health lab, which she said typically processes tests in one to two days for people who are referred to that facility — typically higher-risk subjects. Lab results from one of the state-run sites can take up to four to six days, although some were available in 2½ days earlier this week.
But a negative test result is only a snapshot in time, and no guarantee that you are still free of the virus when Thanksgiving arrives, Mase said.
“You could be negative, let’s say next Tuesday, yet be positive on Thursday,” Mase said. “It doesn’t really protect you to the extent that you might think it does.”
That lines up with the official health guidance this holiday season, which discourage gatherings, especially meetups indoors and with members of multiple households.
Mary Shore, a retired horse ranch manager who lives in Santa Rosa, acknowledged the limited shelf life of a test result when she was swabbed Thursday at the Roseland temporary library branch, where the county was operating a pop-up testing site.
She was on the fence about it, but she wanted to keep her commitment to her family to get tested — her daughter is planning a Thanksgiving meal, likely outdoors with fewer than 10 people — so she went.
“You have to do your part,” Shore said. “Hopefully, it’ll be over within the next year.”
Those going ahead with gatherings should make sure they wear facial coverings, maintain 6 feet of distance, practice good hygiene and have their events outdoors if possible, Mase said.
“Still, the best bet is to not gather with others outside the household and not travel,” Mase said.
Private health care providers like Kaiser Permanente are seconding that advice and also cautioning that increased demand for tests could cause delays in lab results during the holiday season.
“The increase in COVID-19 cases are creating an increased demand for testing and turnaround times for results may vary,” a Kaiser spokesman said in a statement.
Coronavirus cases are surging nationwide as the holiday season begins, prompting health officials to urge the public to take greater precautions. On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom reversed much of the state’s reopening, placing 41 counties — equal to 94% of the state’s population — in the most restrictive tier of the state’s reopening plan. On Thursday, the state imposed an overnight curfew in those counties, including Sonoma, in an attempt to avert a wave of COVID cases that could stress the state’s health care system.
County officials are just starting to see cases from Halloween gatherings and trick-or-treating, said county health program manager Kate Pack. Since it takes an estimated four weeks to get a good picture of viral spread, it could be Christmas by the time the impact from Thanksgiving is known and nearly a month after New Year’s to see how case rates fluctuate.
Aaron Sexton, a Medtronic employee, got tested at the Jockey Club on Wednesday — a requirement prior to a business trip during the week of Thanksgiving. When Christmastime rolls around, he plans to keep his celebrations small.
“I’m not going out to any big gatherings, obviously,” Sexton said. “Phone calls take the place nowadays.”
You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @wsreports.