Written by Frank Lopez
Lockdown restrictions are being lifted across the state and businesses are starting to re-open — but during all of this, there is fear of a second wave of the coronavirus surging in the near future, especially with ongoing street protests of the death of George Floyd.
Local county governments, in coordination with local hospitals and medical facilities, have been ramping up efforts to increase Covid-19 testing in the Central Valley.
On the Fresno Department of Public Health’s Covid-19 testing sites webpage, there are 48 listed medical clinics and centers that conduct testing. Local hospitals also provide testing services at their facilities.
United Health Centers (UHC), a nonprofit health organization serving the medical needs of underserved communities in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties, has been dedicating efforts for Covid-19 testing in recent weeks, and is working to increase testing capacity.
According to a report from UHC as of last week, it performed 5,000 tests throughout all of its locations — testing 300 to 400 people a day
Justin Preas, deputy CEO at UHC, said testing capacity has been steadily increasing.
“That’s part of the call to everyone to be able to reopen the economy and do certain things is to do enough testing. I think the call is to do 1,500 tests per day in the County of Fresno and we’ve been doing 300 to 400 ourselves, so it’s a really attainable goal to get there.”
For the month of June, Preas said that levels of testing for the county will be at least at the same as in May, if not higher. He added UHC is prepared to keep testing as long as needed.
Carrie Monteiro, the public information officer for the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency, said the county’s health department has been monitoring the outbreak since the beginning of the year. The department mobilized a department operation center in February to ramp up coordination and communication regarding the monitoring of Covid-19.
There are 29 test collection sites in Tulare County, all of them run by testing vendors of health care centers.
Tulare County has collection sites— hospitals, health care clinics and two community sites — that are collecting samples from patients, which are shipped to the public health lab or various commercial labs.
The county public health lab has been testing for Covid-19 since February with its various hospital outlets, and not only for Tulare County residents — at the time, it was one of 11 health labs in the state that had the capability for testing for Covid-19.
“We have ramped up testing exponentially in Tulare County,” Monteiro said. “Since our first case in March, we have had a huge capacity increase. Right now, we have a capacity of testing two people per thousand population, which is above the metric that the state had set of testing one and a half individuals per one thousand population.”
Monteiro credits local health care providers and hospitals for the capacity of testing. While a second surge is a serious concern at the moment, Monteiro commends the community adhering to shelter-in-place orders.
Sara Bosse, Madera County public health director, said that Madera Community Hospital and its clinics, as well as Camarena Health, conduct testing in Madera County.
The county’s public health office has also been conducting field tests for its mobile testing site for the few weeks, already having gone to two remote locations with more sites planned.
There is also now an OptumServe testing site at the Madera fairgrounds. OptumServe is a leading health services innovation company.
In the last week of May, Bosse said the county had an average rate of 70 tests per day, and with the mobile health unit and OptumServe site, it is anticipated that testing capacity will eventually reach 237 tests conducted per day.
In Madera County, there have been 2,444 reported tests conducted as of last week, with some negative tests not being thoroughly reported yet.
“We are really excited about these opportunities to increase testing in Madera County,” Bosse said. “We know that there are people who have been wanting to be tested who didn’t necessarily have symptoms and weren’t prioritized. We want to be able to offer that opportunity for everyone.”