Leading physicians stress need to improve testing
This concludes this week’s three-part series on COVID-19. (The previous articles ran in Sunday’s and Wednesday’s News-Press.)
Controlling COVID-19 means testing a lot of people and getting the results quickly.
That’s according to Dr. Henning Ansorg, who would love to see more labs plus the ability for people to take the test at home.
“My biggest hope is the saliva test that has been studied and approved by the FDA,” Dr. Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County health officer, told the News-Press. “It is just waiting for commercial producers to produce these sampling kits.
“That would be so convenient. You would just collect the saliva in the privacy of your own home and drop it off to the doctor’s office or lab,” he said. “That’s so much easier than having to make an appointment, where someone has to wear this astronaut suit and not get infected themselves.
“To get a pandemic under control, you need to test a lot of people, and you need to act on the results very quickly,” said Dr. Ansorg, who’s with the county Public Health Department.
Testing makes a difference, he stressed. “You can really control the spread of the virus most effectively.
“Once we identify someone as positive, we have to put them in isolation for 10 days when they won’t infect others,” he said.
Dr. Ansorg noted his department has a team that does nothing but investigate positive cases and determines who may have had contact with the patients.
He noted that testing has “vastly improved.”
“We have seen a significant influx of new labs coming aboard and new platforms,” Dr. Ansorg said. “We have seen the turnaround time improve.”
Testing during the pandemic has been done at clinics, hospitals and sites such as Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria Fairpark.
The time it takes to get appointments and results varies. Some people have seen results back in days; others, a week or longer.
And getting an appointment quickly doesn’t necessarily mean fast results. The News-Press knows of one local resident who got an immediate testing appointment and was told he would get the result within several days. Instead, he waited more than a month, but was relieved to find out the test was negative.
One problem is that the demand is exceeding the supplies.
“Our biggest challenge is obtaining materials for our tests,” Dr. David Fisk, Cottage Health’s medical director of infection prevention and control, told the News-Press.
He explained Cottage Health, the nonprofit parent company of hospitals in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Solvang, has been unable to continue one test it was doing for every patient who was admitted. “We have not received the equipment from a company to do it.”
COVID-19 tests are performed with a long swab up a nostril, and Cottage Health has plenty of swabs, Dr. Fisk said. He explained the problem is a shortage of the cartridges used to process the test.
So Cottage Health has had to use another test with a longer delay in getting results, he said.
On a positive note, Dr. Fisk said Cottage is doing better than most other hospitals in Santa Barbara County, the region and the nation because it has four machines to run the COVID-19 tests. “Whereas, most hospitals have zero or one.
“But even though we’ve done historically very well, the capacity to offer that outstanding test has been impacted by these shortages (of materials),” he said.
But Dr. Fisk said he’s hoping for a resolution in the coming weeks.
He added that Santa Barbara County faces competition for the testing materials from other areas with more COVID-19 cases, such as Los Angeles.
“These testing materials have been redirected to higher-impact areas, but there are also changes in the manufacturing side that are impacting the supply as well,” Dr. Fisk said. “They might not be making as many (materials) as they have been.”