By Barry Holtzclaw
Frustrated that Covid-19 testing rates are still far below public health goals, Santa Clara County on June 10 announced that all private health clinics and hospitals in the county must immediately provide Covid-19 tests on demand to citizens in three categories.
Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, COVID-19 testing officer for Santa Clara County, said that any person who has Covid-19 symptoms, any person who has been exposed to a known case of infection with the virus or any person who works in a “frontline” job such as a bus driver, grocery clerk or health care or public safety worker “should be given a test if they request it,” regardless of symptoms.
At a hastily called 2pm press conference in San Jose, Fenstersheib added a fourth category of individuals who also need to get the virus tests – anyone who has attended a recent public demonstration, where people likely did not follow social distancing guidelines.
Until now, most Covid-19 testing in the county has been done by the county’s Valley Medical Center and its clinics, Fenstersheib said.
He said county testing numbers have ranged from 850 to 3,500 daily, averaging about 2,400, far short of the county’s target of 4,000 or more Covid-19 tests daily.
He said the big private health care providers – Kaiser Permanente, Stanford Health Care and Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF), who serve about 1 million residents – “are well-meaning…but it’s just not happened.”
“We just aren’t seeing the numbers generated by these health care systems,” he said. “They need to step up and help provide additional testing.”
The county’s Covid-19 Testing Dashboard, as of June 10, reported that 93,623 patients had been tested in the county, which has a population of nearly 2 million. The tests so far showed 3,032 positive results, he said.
Fenstersheib said the tests should be given to people in the three main categories, plus any protest participants, on demand.
“If Valley Medical Center can do it, then all the rest of the systems can do it,” he said.
“We need testing to be readily available.”
A month ago, the county had recommended that private insurers provide the tests to people in these groups. Today’s announcement elevated that recommendation to an order.
“We feel it was necessary to issue this order so we can do all we can to protect all the people in the community,” Fenstersheib said.
“We want all citizens of the county to know that it is important for them to get tested if they fall into one of the three groups,” said County Executive Jeff Smith.
“We want to make sure that the insurers that are responsible for their health care know that they are going to be coming in to ask for those tests.”
“A large portion of our population is insured, and that’s a good thing,” said Smith. “However, one of the downsides of being insured is that your access to health care is determined by somebody else,” he told reporters.
“What we’re trying to enforce today is that in the midst of a public health pandemic, a crisis, we want the individual patients, the individuals who are at risk, to make sure that they take responsibility for getting the tests that they need, and that they have the access that they need to get that test.”
“We’ve been for a number of months telling residents to call their doctor if they have symptoms or if they are concerned, or call their health system or call their advice nurse. This order makes sure that when they do that, they’ll get a ‘Yes’ when they ask for a test.”
“We’re not trying to be heavy-handed, we just want to make sure that everybody who needs a test gets a test,” Smith said, “because it’s a dangerous time right now and the only way that we can protect the community is with testing and appropriate tracing and isolation.”
Earlier on June 10, the county Public Health Department issued a statement that urged anyone who has “been in large crowds” should be tested within three-to-five days of the gathering.
Covid-19 tests are to be offered free of charge, and tests do not affect immigration status or require a physician’s note.
The county set up two walk-up popup testing sites available this week, in San Jose and Gilroy, 10am-4pm through Friday, June 12.
The San Jose test site is at the County of Santa Clara Service Center Auditorium, 1555 Berger Drive.
The Gilroy test site is at the Valley Health Center, 7475 Camino Arroyo.
To find a free Covid-19 testing location near you: www.sccfreetest.org or call 2-1-1.