Arbitrary waiting period for COVID-19 test results adds to the struggle
The total number of positive COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara County continues to climb higher each day.
Santa Barbara County reported 77 new cases on Monday.
Between backed up COVID-19 testing facilities and the extremely high demand for tests, the waiting period for results has been inconsistent from one individual to the next.
While one patient might get his/her results within a day or two, another won’t receive his/hers for eight to 10 days, even if they were tested at the same time with the same provider.
Emergency medical services agency director Nicholas Clay at the Public Health Department said he doesn’t have an answer to the question of why.
“We’ve pushed the state very hard to give an explanation, because obviously we’re the ones at the face of the issue,” he told the News-Press. “They’re hard pressed to provide any additional details.”
The director said it all comes down to how massive of an undertaking the testing process is with the demand. Mr. Clay added that the prioritization of tests plays a large factor — if someone has been quarantining at home with no exposure or symptoms and doesn’t work in a high risk environment, they will likely be placed at the end of the line.
“We really are streamlining this process,” he said. “The labs are following the latest California Department of Public Health guidance in terms of who they run first which might explain some of the days.”
Mr. Clay added that County Public Health is also trying to encourage people who booked a test two weeks in advance but ended up getting tested elsewhere to cancel their appointments to free up space.
Quest Diagnostics, one of the healthcare providers administering tests in Santa Barbara, said in a statement on Monday that its turnaround time for reporting tests results is now over two days for priority-one patients and seven days for all other patients.
“Demand for our molecular diagnostic testing remains high as the virus has spread across much of the United States,” the press release said. “Persistent high demand has strained our testing capacity and extended delays for test results. We expect that as our capacity continues to grow, we will be able to return to average turnaround times in the range of one day for priority-one patients and three days for most other patients.”
On top of the elongated waiting period for test results, statistics on the total numbers of positive COVID-19 cases are inconsistent from the county to the state.
Mr. Clay said the crux of the issue is the reporting timeline and varying deadlines between the state and the county.
“(The state is) obviously looking at a larger pool of data,” he said. “For argument’s sake, our cutoff may be at noon and theirs may be a different time of day or a day late or just not the same exact parameters.”
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office has struggled with this waiting period for results.
It is currently administering sweeping staff testing, and 36 employees tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday. Twenty-five recovered and returned to work while five custody deputies, four civilian staff and two sheriff’s deputies are recovering at home.
Raquel Zick, the office’s public information officer, told the News-Press 500 tests have been administered to date.
“The big concern for us is if we have asymptomatic positive patients who continue to work while we wait to receive the results,” Ms. Zick told the News-Press.
She went on to say there’s judgment in the decision for individuals with no symptoms to continue working while waiting for results, and to go home to their families.
“After they get tested, they do go home to their families,” Ms. Zick said. “After you get the test, what do you do with that? Do you quarantine until you get your results? A lot of these are rotating tests, so every week or two, (employees) are being tested and then going home and having to either immediately quarantine or just wait for that result.”
She said that employees at the sheriff’s office can get their results as soon as one to two days and as late as eight to 10 days.
“The quicker that we know whether or not (inmates) are COVID positive, it’s better for the facility,” Ms. Zick said. “The quicker we know, the quicker we can reduce their contact with other inmates and get them quarantined.”
The Public Health Department still encourages residents of the county to make space for high risk, high priority individuals to get tested. To find a testing site or more information on testing, visit http://covid19.ca.gov/testing-and-treament/.