SACRAMENTO – Local neighborhood testing sites for COVID-19 will reopen Monday, according to County health officials, but only to accommodate those who already had appointments scheduled for this week.
Five testing locations were closed this week due to a national shortage of supplies needed to conduct and collect the samples and then send them to a lab for results. UC Davis, who partners with the Sacramento County Health Department to process the tests and deliver results, announced the shortage and the sites shut down. A reprieve came when the California National Guard Collection Transport and Analysis Team (CTAT) agreed to shift their pop-up testing to the sites. CTAT will operate and serve four of the community-based testing sites throughout Sacramento starting the week of July 13.
Appointments that were previously scheduled for Tetteh Pediatric Health, located at 7248 S. Land Park Drive, will be done at South Sacramento Christian Center. The two sites were combined because of their proximity.
The Natomas Unified School District site, located at 1931 Arena Boulevard, will have testing on Tuesday, July 14. The Robertson Community Center, located at 3525 Norwood Avenue, will have testing on Wednesday, July 15. La Familia’s Maple Neighborhood Center, located at 3301 37th Avenue, Room 7, will have testing on Thursday, July 16. The South Sacramento Christian Center, located at 7710 Stockton Boulevard, will have testing on Friday, July 17.
Free drive-thru testing is also available at Cal Expo.
The National Guard help is temporary. Officials say operation of the sites will be reassessed on a weekly basis, as supplies are used.
“We’re working very feverishly to try to replenish the stock,” said Dr. Peter Beilenson, the Sacramento County Director of Health Services.
“The problem is that there is a national shortage on the supply chain and that’s actually something the federal government, the president has to handle.”
Given President Donald Trump’s stance on COVID-19, that’s “questionable,” Dr. Beilenson said.
There is a shortage of the testing reagent, the material that’s put into a machine that shows whether or not the virus is present in a sample.
“The ability to get that depends on the federal government because they prioritize to whom the testing reagent goes. The other major labs are at capacity, for example Quest and LabCore, the two major commercial labs in the county, they are at capacity and they have a 8-9 day turnaround time (for results), which isn’t very helpful anyway, so we were not able to get them to help. In addition to the reagent, there’s a shortage of the testing tubes as well, so UC Davis is trying to make these tubes.”
It’s a statewide issue, as well as a federal one.
“All the UC system’s medical centers are in the same boat,” Dr. Beilenson shared.
He wants people to know the serious nature of the shortage and testing stoppage.
“We were using the community sites obviously to serve vulnerable populations and populations that we’re having a hard time getting through the drive-thru site. We obviously wanted to serve those folks and were being extremely successful; we’re up to 19,000 tests a week in the county as a whole.
“We had waitlists for all the community sites, but probably the biggest reason for the community sites, besides the population served, is that the majority of the cases we are getting now, over half, are 14 years old and younger. That is good in some ways as they tend to be healthier and less likely to have serious consequences, but they are much more likely to be asymptomatic–to not have symptoms, but still be infected– than older people. What that means is if we can’t test those people, which we have been doing, you’re going to get what are called ‘superspreaders,’ who are people who have the infection, spread the virus, but don’t have symptoms and otherwise don’t know they have the virus. We were identifying a lot of them through the community sites. That’s one of the unfortunate things about having to close them down for a couple of weeks.”
Dr. Beilenson explained the cause of the shortage.
“The government wasn’t ready for the testing, for the moderate amount of testing we were doing. They finally got enough supplies out after three months to be able to start serving people and now that we’ve ramped up testing as we’re supposed to be doing, we are now stuck again because they did not ramp up production of those materials.”
The shortage comes at a time when Sacramento County has seen a recent spike in positive COVID-19 cases, which is being attributed largely to gatherings as well as manual and day labor, Dr. Beilenson said.
When the County began reopening from the first mandated shutdown, health officials started preparing for a “second wave” of infections. It began to hire more workers to help track the spread of the virus.
“Our contract tracers, we clearly need more,” Dr. Beilenson said. “We are at 60 or so and we’re going up to 120. We’re getting up there toward what we need to get. With less testing it’s hard to send people toward testing if they’re identified, so we’re going to basically quarantine people who have been exposed.”
In other areas, the number of available ICU beds may be an issue as well.
“ We’re OK with that,” Dr. Beilenson said. “We’ve obviously used more than we thought we would a few weeks ago, but we have a number of beds still available. Going into our surge capacity, and our storage capacity is the number of beds we would have to get to beyond our current hospitalization numbers, we have all 813 of those beds still available for people in the county.”
Going forward, priority at the neighborhood sites will be given to previously scheduled residents who have not already accessed testing through alternative means and that are 18 years or older.
For more information about testing in Sacramento County, visit the COVID-19 Testing webpage, https://www.saccounty.net/COVID-19/Pages/Symptom-Screening_MobileTestingSite.aspx.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer