Increase in tests propels California into Stage 2 | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Increase in tests propels California into Stage 2

Justin Scacco
jscacco@sierrasun.com

California will move into Stage 2 of reopening today, allowing some retail, manufacturing, and logistics businesses to open.

The state’s start to reopening is based on its performance in six key metrics — stability of hospitalizations, personal protective equipment inventory, health care surge capacity, contact tracing capability, public health guidance in place, and testing capacity.

“Millions of Californians answered the call to stay home and thanks to them, we are in a position to begin moving into our next stage of modifying our stay at home order,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom in a Monday news release. “But make no mistake — this virus isn’t gone. It’s still dangerous and poses a significant public health risk. As we move into the next stage of reopening, we will do so with updated guidance to help qualifying businesses make modifications needed to lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure to customers and workers. Californians should prepare now for that second stage of reopening.”

Based on the state’s progress in handling the outbreak of COVID-19, businesses like bookstores, clothing stores, florists, and sporting goods stores will be allowed to reopen with modifications. Other Stage 2 sectors such as offices and dine-in restaurants will be part of a later Stage 2 opening. Counties will also be allowed to continue more restrictive measures based on local conditions.

Increase in testing, new locations

Part of the reason officials are confident in moving forward into Stage 2 has to do with increased testing capacity.

Officials stated that California has met its goal of testing 25,000 people per day, increasing its total by roughly 9,000 tests per day in recent weeks. The state has also opened more than 80 new COVID-19 testing sites, one of which began operating Monday in Kings Beach and another opened in South Lake Tahoe Monday, May 5.

Testing on the South Shore is available Tuesday through Friday at Lake Tahoe Community College by appointment only.

“There is absolutely no barrier to being tested,” said El Dorado County Public Health Officer Nancy Williams. She noted that citizen status will not be checked, cost is covered either by insurance or by the state if you are uninsured, and if someone is without identification, testing staff will generate a unique identifier number to obtain results. 

Testing in Kings Beach is being conducted at the North Tahoe Event Center and is by appointment only. Placer County health officials are urging all residents with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 — even if symptoms are mild — to seek testing.

“As we look ahead to a phased reopening, being able to test all symptomatic persons will be critical to our ability to control the spread of COVID-19,” said Placer County Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson in a news release. “We’ve reached sufficient testing capacity where we can begin to ramp up in preparation for this.”

Along with the addition of another testing site in Roseville, health officials said Placer County has more than doubled its testing capacity. The new sites do not currently have serology tests, which test for COVID-19 antibodies.

“These two sites in Roseville and Kings Beach will add over 250 tests per day,” said Sisson.

Placer County has reported nearly 1,000 new negative test results since Thursday, April 30. Eastern Placer County has remained at 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since last week. Placer County as a whole has seen an increase of 20 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus since Thursday, April 30, bringing the county’s total up to 165 positive cases.

Nevada County, Tahoe

In Nevada County, confirmed cases of coronavirus have stayed the same since Thursday, April 30, remaining at 41 positive cases. Eastern Nevada County, which includes Truckee and other unincorporated areas, has seen a total of six confirmed cases of COVID-19 since April 7. Nevada County announced it has administered 279 tests for COVID-19 since last Thursday.

According to Nevada County Public Health Officer Dr. Ken Cutler, testing limitations in the past meant focusing on the number of confirmed cases could be misleading and underestimate the extent of community transmission.

“Given that testing was limited, certain groups necessarily were prioritized for those tests such as hospitalized patients, health care workers, and those in congregate living facilities where outbreaks can be devastating,” Cutler said in an email. “Expanded testing will be important to pick up those with milder symptoms so that they can be isolated and their close contacts traced so they can, in turn, be quarantined. And expanded testing will start to allow for testing of some asymptomatic individuals who are at higher risk of exposure.”

Tahoe Forest Health System, which serves residents in five counties in Nevada and California, has reported one positive case of COVID-19 since last Thursday, bringing its total up to 57.

Tahoe Forest has administered roughly 670 COVID-19 tests as of Thursday and has been averaging around 10 tests each day with around 8% to 9% of tests coming back positive. Tahoe Forest administers tests only if a physician orders it, which is why its averages are lower than other testing sites.

“What we are seeing is the number of positive lab tests are really slowing,” said Tahoe Forest Health System President and CEO Harry Weis. “They slowed quite a bit in April and continued to be very slow in May … and our in-patient activities have really slowed over the past three or four weeks as well.”

Weis said it takes roughly 72 hours to get test results back from the lab after they are sent out from collection sites in Incline Village and Truckee.

On Tuesday, Tahoe Forest issued an update on hospital services, stating the hospital would soon begin to reschedule surgeries along with rescheduling diagnostic imaging appointments.

“Our biggest concern for the general public is we do not want to see people procrastinate if they have an illness or an injury of concern,” said Weis. “We are hearing regional and national stories where health matters have elevated too high because a patient was afraid to go see their doctor or go to the emergency department … please don’t procrastinate. We want to protect the health of the region.”

Finding a test site

In order to further facilitate more individuals get tested, California recently launched a website to help residents find COVID-19 testing sites near them.

Testing at the state sites is free for everyone, including those who are uninsured or undocumented.

“As testing continues to ramp up at a rapid pace across the state, we want to make sure Californians know how to schedule an appointment, which can easily be done online for many locations,” said Dr. Charity Dean, Assistant Director of the California Department of Public Health and co-chairperson of the California COVID-19 Testing Task Force, in a news release. “With the launch of new community testing sites and significantly expanded testing criteria, more Californians will be tested — and in locations much closer to their homes.”

Testing locations can be found at http://www.covid19.ca.gov.

Moving forward

While the state has increased its testing capabilities from around 16,000 per day to 25,000 per day in recent weeks, Newsom has stated the ultimate goal for California is to conduct between 60,000 and 80,000 tests per day.

Proportionally, that would mean Nevada County would need about 150 to 200 tests per day to meet the state’s goal, though researchers say the need in counties with low density is likely to be even lower. The county has averaged roughly 40 tests per day in the last week.

Placer County averaged roughly 140 tests per day in the last week. The county would need to average between 600 and 800 tests per day to meet the state’s goal based on its population of roughly 400,000 people.

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at jscacco@sierrasun.com or 530-550-2643.


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