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County Task Force Will Plot Strategy For Expanded Coronavirus Testing

Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten speaks at a San Diego County news conf...

Photo by Zoë Meyers / inewsource

Above: Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten speaks at a San Diego County news conference on the coronavirus, March 19, 2020.

San Diego County is holding the first official meeting of its coronavirus testing task force on Monday. The coalition, announced by health officials last week, is expected to develop plans to greatly expand testing in the region.

State and federal criteria for re-opening local economies require robust testing to help track the virus and isolate infected individuals. Some San Diego health systems have reported they are testing below their capacity yet don’t have enough excess to accommodate widespread testing. Officials established the task force to better utilize current abilities and rapidly add more.

County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said Friday the invitations to join the task force, which a spokeswoman said were sent out Thursday, were a formality because she’s previously been in contact with facilities that will make up the group.

“The laboratory directors at our local hospitals and federally qualified health centers, specifically Family Health Centers of San Diego, as well as the commercial laboratories — those are the entities that have been invited and we have been engaging them this entire week,” Wooten said.

RELATED: A Combination Of Tests Key To Preventing Future Flare-Ups of COVID-19

When directly asked during the county’s daily coronavirus response update, however, Wooten did not specifically name the facilities that confirmed their participation on the task force.

Four San Diego hospitals previously told KPBS they were not testing at their capacity largely due to lower than expected demand. Initial testing guidance from the federal government, which the county adhered to, suggested testing mostly be prioritized for severely ill or symptomatic patients who are at a higher risk for contracting or experiencing complications from COVID-19.

The restrictions helped conserve the limited testing capabilities many facilities faced early on, but as some hospitals increased their capacity, they loosened their own criteria to add patient groups, including asymptomatic individuals. The county this week also expanded its testing guidelines to vulnerable populations, such as residents of long-term care facilities, those with HIV/AIDS or members of certain racial groups, regardless of symptoms.

Wooten on Thursday also announced new drive-through testing sites would be opening in Escondido and Chula Vista to “help meet the needs of the new priority populations” outlined in the county’s updated guidance. Health care workers earlier this month already began testing all homeless individuals sheltered at the San Diego Convention Center. The county has identified the homeless population as another vulnerable group.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said hospitals have reported a lack of resources, not governmental guidance, as a barrier to testing expansion.

“What they said was a limitation on reagents, swabs, collection kits, staffing and personal protective equipment,” Fletcher said on Thursday.

Fletcher has said the task force will determine the number of daily tests required to contain the virus as well as the resources needed to carry them out.

The task force will meet a total of three times next week to review and add to a county-developed draft action plan. The group will also look at quality assurance for testing of asymptomatic individuals as well as an antibody testing strategy for the region.

Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.

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Photo of Tarryn Mento

Tarryn Mento
Health Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksThe health beat is about more than just illness, medicine and hospitals. I examine what impacts the wellness of humans and their communities.

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