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San Diego County Looks To Increase Testing Capacity With The Rise Of Delta Variant

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As demand for testing rises, local health officials and providers take action

Speaker 1: 00:00 More people across the county are seeking COVID testing. As the Delta variant is causing an increase in people, sickened from and exposed to the virus. Now, both healthcare providers and local health officials are working on plans to rapidly increase testing capacity here to tell us more about those efforts in San Diego union Tribune, healthcare reporter, Paul Sisson. Paul, welcome. Thanks for having me. So can you give us an idea of how much of an increase in testing demand we've seen in San Diego county in the last few weeks?

Speaker 2: 00:30 Yeah, I was wondering this myself yesterday, so I asked the county and, uh, it looks like, um, uh, July 1st we had an average of about 7,200 tests, uh, going on that's a seven day average. Uh, and as of Sunday, the seven day average was about 12,000. So it's increased it. Hasn't quite doubled if you're looking at it's seven day averages, which I think is a more kind of accurate way to understand some of these numbers, but it certainly has increased quite a bit, a few days ago. It was, uh, getting over 15,000, uh, per day on certain days, then maybe a few weeks, a few months ago. We, uh, we might've been down to, you know, maybe just a couple of thousand, uh, on any given day. So we certainly had a large increase in demand for testing exactly what it is. Uh, you know, these numbers are always changing. The most recent numbers are, are a little, uh, under reported just because it takes some labs longer to get their results back to the county health department, uh, to be reported to us in the public.

Speaker 1: 01:31 How long could someone expect to wait to be tested now as opposed to last month? And also, is there a delay in getting the results of those tests? It

Speaker 2: 01:41 Seems like some folks were waiting, uh, you know, an hour maybe close to two hours in certain locations. For some reason yesterday there, there seemed to be a large, uh, weight going on at many, uh, Kaiser facilities, uh, run by Kaiser Permanente across the county. As far as I know, uh, there haven't really been any major delays in them processing those samples that get collected and getting results back to people. Uh, I talked to, uh, a physician over at sharp yesterday, uh, sharp health care here in town that runs its own, uh, massive testing lab. And they said, yeah, you know, we're, we're able to run as many large batches of tests as we need to. And we're usually able to get results back to people in 24 to 48 hours. So it doesn't really seem like there's been a massive increase in the result time yet. Uh, I think it's safe to say that, uh, if you went in to get a, a sample collected at a, at a testing site a month ago or so you wouldn't have much weight at all. And now just depending on where you go, you might see, you know, you might end up waiting an hour if you're in your car. Uh, you know, in one of these sites that backs up our public

Speaker 1: 02:46 Health officials, worried that this could discourage people from getting tested. Uh, you know, they're

Speaker 2: 02:50 Not saying that they're worried, but I think if you judge things by, by what they're doing, I think they, they must be a little worried that we learned yesterday that, uh, San Diego county just put up a large, uh, new testing, uh, walk-in location, uh, Cal state San Marcos up in north county. Uh, that's going to be capable of starting today of, of, uh, processing, I think about 1000 people or more per day. Uh, and they are working on a similar addition, uh, at San Diego state down in the core of the city. Uh, that should be open this week. They don't have an exact day on that get, and it sounds like they're also increasing, uh, testing at some of their other smaller locations as well. So yeah, I think they are definitely concerned about it. Just judging them by their actions. They're not really coming out and saying that they're worried publicly,

Speaker 1: 03:39 You know, many employers in the region have recently started requiring vaccines or frequent testing. So how big of a factor are these new testing requirements and this increased demand? It's really

Speaker 2: 03:51 Hard to say. Uh, there, there really isn't any good data on exactly why patients are coming in, uh, for testing. A lot of it could be asymptomatic testing. Uh, the county just doesn't really break that down, uh, and, and tell us in the public, uh, what percentage, uh, of testing going on on any given day is for people who don't have any symptoms and are doing this as a routine requirement of their employer. So, uh, there, there is a fair amount of concern, uh, that this new mandate from the state that requires state employees, as well as all healthcare employees to get tested regularly. If they're not vaccinated starting this month is going to really cause demand for testing to even surge significantly beyond where it is today. Uh, so I think it's very much a concern that the, you know, do we have the capacity to so regularly test so many, uh, although as we see today as well, uh, there are increasing mandates from employers, uh, to get vaccinated with Kaiser Permanente, uh, indicating that all of their employees are going to be required to be vaccinated. So, uh, it's a little bit in flux at the moment, I guess I'd say. Yeah. Do

Speaker 1: 05:03 You expect to see the demand for testing and decrease actually anytime soon or, or do you think, um, this is our new normal when it comes to testing?

Speaker 2: 05:13 I mean, it's hard to say exactly how things are going to go with vaccination. Uh, there, there seems to be mounting social pressure from all fronts, for those who are unvaccinated, uh, to get vaccinated. Uh, and I guess that may cause a surge in vaccination here in the, in the coming weeks. Uh, and so that would seem to be the main break on the demand for testing, but, but I think until, uh, until this Delta variant, uh, has fully moved through the community, uh, I, and, or a lot more people start getting vaccinated. I think you're going to probably see quite a demand for testing. It's hard to put a kind of a horizon on it's just, I, my crystal ball, isn't perfectly crystal clear at the moment on how this is going to go. Well, maybe

Speaker 1: 06:04 Your crystal ball can tell us this. I mean, with this recent rise in cases, what other aspects of the COVID response are you looking into? Um,

Speaker 2: 06:12 You know, I think we're always very interested in what businesses are going to do in San Diego county. Um, you just wonder, you know, you hear stories, uh, up in Los Angeles, uh, in San Francisco about businesses requiring their patrons to be vaccinated. If they want to come in and say, have a drink or have a meal. Uh, and so, you know, I'm very interested in whether that's going to happen here as well, you know, and we're always keeping an eye on what's going on in the hospitals, you know, as we've discussed before, uh, it's extremely essential that, that COVID not create such a surge in hospitalization, that it crowds out other patients at the moment, it doesn't look like that's happening. There has been an increase in hospitalization, but it, uh, it looks like it's at a level that our local hospitals are, are very able to handle. Uh, and so, you know, we're, I think everybody's watching very closely to see if, uh, if the spike and infections that we're seeing now turns into a really significant spike in hospitalization.

Speaker 1: 07:14 I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, healthcare reporter, Paul Sisson. You can find his latest story on the county's efforts to boost testing capacity on the San Diego union Tribune website. Paul, thanks so much for joining. Thanks for having me.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.