State issues new plans for COVID-19 testing

Volunteers direct cars out of the parking lot during the COVID-19 drive thru testing at College of the Canyons on Wednesday, April 08, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal
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California has rolled out new plans for COVID-19 testing that look to prioritize who would get tested first and which tests would be processed faster, according to state guidelines issued Tuesday. 

The state Department of Public Health will focus on testing hospitalized individuals with signs or symptoms of COVID-19 and those connected to outbreaks, which includes contact tracing. 

The guidance also prioritizes symptomatic individuals and higher-risk asymptomatic individuals and then other asymptomatic individuals when certain conditions exist, according to the new guidelines. People who live and work in nursing homes, homeless shelters and prisons, and health care workers and patients in hospitals would fall under this category. 

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, who shared the updated plans during a teleconference Tuesday, said these changes come as the state refocuses on increasing testing and testing those most in need. 

“It does take all hands on deck to address this pandemic and testing is no small part of that,” he said, adding that the state has significantly increased its daily testing count from around 2,000 per day back in late March and early April to an average of 100,000 to date. 

Despite more testing, challenges in supply still exist, said Ghaly. 

“At the same time, new national supply chain challenges and large volumes of specimens sent to commercial laboratories have resulted in growing delays in processing times,” he said in a prepared statement. “Consequently, it is critical we continue to be deliberate and creative about testing. We must do this so that testing is readily available and affordable to those who need it, especially those communities experiencing the worst impacts of COVID-19 and those who are at the highest risk.”

In increasing testing, Ghaly also said that the state is working with health insurers to offer reimbursement for testing and with private providers to create additional in-office testing capacity. Tests current run around $100 each but California is trying to reduce the cost, he added. 

The new guidelines come as the state faces a rising trend in hospitalizations and reaches more than 329,000 cases, averaging about 8,211 diagnoses per day. In response to the surge, Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled back further reopenings Monday, announcing that gyms, places of worship and malls would have to close once again across 30 counties, including in Los Angeles County. 

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