Santa Clara County officials said Jan. 14 that the region’s Omicron surge may be cresting and called on private health care providers to increase their Covid-19 testing capacity.

The county is currently seeing its highest infection rates since the pandemic began, according to Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody, but recent analysis of local sewagesheds has found a decrease in the amount of virus countywide.

“We’re far from out of the woods,” Cody said during a briefing. “What I’m saying is maybe we’re starting to approach where we were two weeks ago, but at least we’re not continuing to rise up.”

Cody acknowledged the county’s current dearth of Covid-19 at-home tests and testing appointments and suggested that residents should utilize PCR tests and at-home antigen tests in different ways.

Antigen tests should be used for Covid-positive or Covid-exposed people who are seeking to shorten their quarantine period by testing negative for the virus, Cody said, and argued that a positive antigen test should be regarded with the same accuracy as a PCR test conducted at a health care facility for county-run testing site. 

People who have had Covid in the prior 90 days are also not advised to get a test during that timeframe because the virus can remain dormant in a person’s body for up to three months.

People who have new Covid symptoms in the 90 days following a positive test and recovery from Covid are encouraged to use an antigen test, according to Cody.

“We’ve always said and we know now more than ever that we have to put these layers of protection together,” she said, referencing masking and vaccination. “And when we have a shortage of one layer, as we currently do with testing, we have to double up on those other layers and really focus on them.”

County Counsel James Williams argued that large multi-county health care providers like Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health Palo Alto Medical Foundation have not provided enough testing and that testing and vaccinations should be conducted by residents’ respective primary care providers.

Williams said Kaiser is the primary provider for more than 30% of the county’s residents and has only provided about 12% of local testing while PAMF is the primary provider for some 12% of county residents and has only accounted for 2.4% of local testing.

By contrast, Williams said, the county’s health system is the primary provider for about 15% of Santa Clara County’s population but has provided 20% of the local testing capacity.

Cody issued a health order in September 2020 requiring private health care companies and nonprofits to increase their capacity for testing and the speed at which they report results to patients.

Williams also noted that the county is outpacing large health care systems in its share of vaccinations. 

“It is not reasonable for the county health system to provide such a disproportionate share of the testing and vaccinations,” he said. “We absolutely need the other large systems … to step up and do their part as well.”

A spokesperson for Sutter Health argued that its testing capacity is limited by overwhelming demand for testing and said PAMF has doubled its number of testing appointments in Santa Clara County over the last three weeks.  

“There are many options for Covid-19 testing, including licensed retail and community sites and at-home antigen tests,” Sutter said in its statement. “If you test positive with an at-home antigen test and have mild or moderate symptoms, please stay home.”

A spokesperson for Kaiser Permanente said the system is currently processing more than 140,000 tests and administering more than 80,000 vaccinations per week in Northern California.

“We object to any suggestion that our front-line health care workers are not doing their fair share,” Kaiser said in a statement. “We are baffled by the county’s suggestion that anyone is holding back.”

Cody said a bulk of at-home tests are currently in the process of being delivered locally and that supply issues could be assuaged “in the near-ish future.”

For now, she said, residents should still limit their gatherings with others, wear a high-quality mask when indoors in public and get vaccinated if they have yet to do so.

“We are still in the middle of the greatest surge that we’ve had during the entire two-year pandemic,” she said. “And every layer of protection is incredibly important.”

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