COVID-19 tests become increasingly backed up during spike in SB County
As Santa Barbara County sees a spike in coronavirus cases, testing sites have been booked solid, some requiring a wait of a week to two weeks.
Between the requirements of booking an appointment, acquiring a referral and patient prioritization, the process of being tested for COVID-19 has become increasingly difficult, especially for those without symptoms.
As of Tuesday, the county reported 87 new positive cases, bringing the total amount of cases to 3,742.
There were 27 new positive cases in the city of Santa Barbara, eight in Goleta, 26 in Santa Maria and nine in Lompoc.
In addition, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria reported two new cases; Goleta Valley and Gaviota 2; Orcutt 4; and the areas of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama, New Cuyama and Guadalupe 2.
There were no new cases at the federal prison in Lompoc, along with no new cases in Isla Vista or the Santa Ynez Valley.
There are now 432 active cases of COVID-19 in the county.
Centers in the county, such as American Medical Response in Buellton, Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara, SLO Vets Hall in San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria Fairpark and others cannot take COVID-19 testing appointments until July 17.
Other state sites under OptumServe Federal Health Services may have availability sooner, but are located as far as Wasco, Arvin and Rosamond, CA.
In addition, the state of California’s other testing partner, Verily, does not provide any testing sites in Santa Barbara County.
Clinics and urgent care centers in the county are available for testing, but that availability is based on a host of factors.
Most need to schedule an appointment and get a referral. Patients who are symptomatic, have an underlying health risk, and healthcare professionals or first responders and residents and employees in group living facilities take priority over others.
However, some smaller clinics and medical centers do accept walk-ins. One example is the MedCenters of Santa Barbara, with three locations on State Street, Milpas Street and Fairview Avenue in Goleta. These centers offer swab and antibody testing for all patients without an appointment or any other requirements necessary.
Residents can also contact their primary care providers for additional testing options.
The program administrator for the Medical Reserve Corps at the Santa Barbara Public Health Department, Nicholas Clay, said the high utilization is due to a lot of community interest in getting tested.
“I think the key thing is that as individuals have a desire to get tested, it’s really incumbent upon each of us to ask the question, ‘Do I meet the current guidelines to be tested?’” he said. “Certainly when we initiated this process, we were encouraging lots of individuals to get tested. Now it’s at the point where people need to think about if they’re working in a high-risk environment, if they’ve had close contact with known positive COVID individuals, if they have signs and symptoms and if Public Health told them to get tested.”
He went on to say if individuals feel as if they lie in a bit of a gray zone, they should consult a healthcare provider first.
“We really want to preserve the space in those sites for those in a high-risk scenario that really do need to get tested,” Mr. Clay said. “Those that want to know if they have COVID who may not have any symptoms, may be doing a great job with social distancing and wearing a face covering with little to no risk — those individuals are, unfortunately, taking space and occupying that space over individuals with higher risk.”
He said he doesn’t see the state being able to add capacity at the current sites unless there’s less utilization by individuals.
Another thing Mr. Clay stressed was that the sites have not run out of tests or supplies; rather, it’s the capacity of being able to book appointments that is causing the delay.
The waiting period for test results widely varies among testing locations. Some suggest two to five days until results come in, others seven to 10. Sites like Verily disclose that due to the current volume of test processing, the results may take longer than the expected, perhaps two to seven days.
Californians can also seek rapid COVID-19 testing, but in order to receive results within minutes to hours, patients must be evaluated by licensed providers, and priority is given to exposed front-line medical personnel and other first responders, including local police and firefighters.
No out-of-pocket costs are required for testing. Those with medical insurance are billed, and those without have their test cost paid for by the government. Prices also vary from $60 to $100+.
The nasal swab administered by trained medical staff takes between five and 10 minutes. Patients are required to wear face coverings and must complete a screening process online prior to scheduling an appointment, detailing biographical information and if/what symptoms are being experienced and the reason for testing.
Adding to the complexity of COVID-19 testing is the waiting period of post-exposure before being tested. According to California Healthline, some experts say to wait at least three or four days, others say at least seven.
Too early of a test may not detect it, but the longer a patient waits, the higher they risk infecting others.
Finally, swab tests aren’t perfect. Many test results can come back inaccurately.
This multifaceted process of testing creates a muddled reality of exposure and self-isolating amid the rapid increase in positive cases in Santa Barbara County.
To find a testing site or find out more information about testing, visit https://covid19.ca.gov/testing-and-treatment/ or Google search “COVID-19 testing near me.”