In an effort to try to help Santa Barbara County reach the next tier in the state’s COVID-19 guidelines, the county Public Health Department is asking community members to once again get tested for the novel coronavirus.
The move comes after the county failed to meet the state’s seven-day testing average during this past week’s evaluation.
The county’s most recent seven-day testing average was 191, while the state’s was 217. As a result, the county was penalized and its average daily case rate per 100,000 was bumped up from 7.9 to 8.3.
Currently, the county is in the state’s purple tier. To move into the red, which would allow them to open more businesses, such as partial indoor dining and movie theaters with limited seating, the county must reduce its daily case rate to under seven per 100,000.
One way of helping the county reach that goal is to encourage the public to get tested, especially if they feel they have been exposed to the virus.
“One key element of the state’s new approach to reopening to a safer economy is testing volume, or the average number of COVID-19 tests we conduct per day based on our population over a seven-day period,” said Nick Clay, the county’s director of emergency medical services agency, during Friday’s press conference.
“It is critical that we are testing more than the state average and that number changes every week, so it’s a moving target.”
The county previously pushed for widespread testing, though changed its messaging in early July due to a lack of resources to test everyone efficiently. This led to increased turn around times.
“We recognize the messaging on testing has shifted during the course of the pandemic. The messaging has been primarily driven by testing availability. When the availability has been limited, we have asked the community to limit the testing to those who need it,” Mr. Clay said.
“We are now asking the community to get tested, because not only is testing readily available, but sustained community testing will contribute to the county moving to the next reopening tier.”
He added the most reliable test is still the nasal swab test.
Furthering the point that testing is becoming more readily available in the county, Dr. Stewart Comer, the county’s lab director, shared that the county went from averaging roughly 50 tests a week during March to now averaging about 1,400 tests a day.
“We have, as of (Thursday), exceeded 130,000 total tests and our forecasts suggest that by the end of this month, we will basically exceed 150,000 total tests… it’s essentially as if one out of every three residents of Santa Barbara County have been tested and that’s a tremendous milestone if you look at it from that perspective,” Dr. Comer said, adding that the county is projecting to add even more testing capacity due to some smaller regional labs coming online sometime in October.
New advancements in testing will also be making its way to the county soon.
Antigen testing, which is less sensitive than current molecular-based testing but still a good alternative, will likely start getting more attention.
Specifically, Dr. Comer talked about the Abbott Binax test, which could produce results in 15 minutes.
“It’ll be deployed in the millions and that’s going to be an extremely important development in increasing the testing,” Dr. Comer said.
For those wanting to get tested, you can go to covid19.ca.gov and navigate the site to see the different places offering the test.
The county also has three state testing sites — in Santa Maria, Buellton and Goleta — which are free and open on weekends. To make an appointment, go to https://lhi.care/covidtesting. Turn around times for results at these locations are about one to three days, according to Mr. Clay.
In other news, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday that a custody deputy tested positive for COVID-19.
The deputy, who is currently asymptomatic, was wearing a mask while at work and was sent home as soon as the results were returned.
This brings the total number of Sheriff’s Office employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 to 40, with 38 having recovered and returned to work. Two are currently recovering at home, authorities said.