Health officials in Santa Clara County had a message for healthcare systems and hospitals regarding the testing of people who believe they may be at risk of contracting the coronavirus:
Do better, immediately.
To get the point across, the county health officer, Dr. Sara Cody, issued an order Wednesday requiring the large healthcare systems in the county to provide immediate testing for high-risk patients. The county had recorded an average of about 2,350 tests per day over the past week, officials said, adding that the testing rate must increase.
“The brunt of the testing has been endured by the county,” county testing officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said Wednesday at a press conference. “It’s been less than optimum for the larger (healthcare providers).”
The order will force larger healthcare systems to test immediately all patients with coronavirus symptoms; all patients who have had close contact with a person testing positive for coronavirus; and all patients at higher risk of exposure.
That latter category includes medical workers, grocery store employees, mass transit workers and regular commuters. Those who have marched in protests in the Black Lives Matter movement or attended other racial justice demonstrations also were included in the order.
Without specifying, Fenstersheib said not all of the county’s hospitals have been quick to make it easy for testing to happen. The healthcare systems that are affected include the County of Santa Clara Health and Hospital System, El Camino Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Regional Medical Center and Stanford Health Care.
“We’ve been in constant contact with the hospitals. A lot of them have stepped up. But a lot have not,” Fenstersheib said. “We felt like at this point if we want to protect our community as we open up from the stay-in-place even more, we have to have more testing in place. And we’ve found that we just can’t get to the numbers that we need if the other places are not stepping up and doing their share. We felt the order was necessary to protect the overall community.”
The order comes as Bay Area counties move deeper into Phase 2 of their re-opening following months-long stay-at-home orders to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has caused 146 deaths in the county, and 3,032 people have tested positive for it.
Fenstersheib said the county has been able to test about 120 residents per 100,000 but that the goal of the county has been to get that number to 200 per 100,000.
Currently, the county has 46 sites that offer testing.
“A lot more people are going to be gathering together, closer together and potentially will be exposed to COVID-19,” Fenstersheib said. “We have social distancing, our masks, our hand-washing. What we really need is to make sure we can test the people we need to test so we can contain any flare-ups we happen to see.”
Reaction from most representatives of the healthcare systems affected by the order, as well as from health officials in other Bay Area counties, were not available immediately.
In a statement Wednesday, Kaiser Permanente representative Sophia X. Patel said the company was one of the first providers to test early in the pandemic and continues to scale its testing.
“Kaiser Permanente is in compliance with today’s order by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. In addition to testing all patients with COVID-19 symptoms, we also provide testing on an individual basis to those without symptoms.”
Patel said more than half of Kaiser’s tests have been for asymptomatic individuals, whom she described as “first responders, health care workers and others in occupations at high risk for exposure and/or have been exposed; people at high risk due to age or certain medical conditions; residents and employees of congregate living facilities; and Kaiser Permanente patients prior to surgeries and certain procedures.”
Staff writer George Kelly contributed to this report. Check back for updates.