Drive-through test

Technicians from the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health conduct their first drive-through tests for the new coronavirus Friday, March 27.

MORONGO BASIN — Testing is one of highest priorities for public health officials as the new coronavirus spreads across San Bernardino County.

“At our core, our mission is to protect our two million residents, and we are doing everything we can to do that,” Trudy Raymundo, director of public health, said at a news conference Wednesday.

The conference was broadcast live on Facebook and as supervisors, doctors and directors took the mic, several people in comments demanded to know why the county has not tested more people.

Raymundo said around 500 people in San Bernardino County have been tested for the new coronavirus. Public health officials want to test more, but they simply do not have the supplies.

“We have been working very closely with the California Department of Public Health,” she said.

“We had a call with them yesterday, and have already given them our desire, all the things we need out of them in order to support us at the local level when it comes to testing.”

The problem isn’t only local.

“Quite honestly it is not just the county of San Bernardino. It is a statewide issue and it is a national issue.”

When commercial labs began offering tests earlier in March, health officials hoped tests would be available easily, Raymundo added.

Instead, labs haven’t been able to cope with the surge of tests being sent their way.

“What we are seeing is that the commercial labs are now seeing almost 25,000 tests per day and may be gearing up to have to accept 35,000 tests per day,” she said.

That’s why it can take five to seven days for results, she explained.

San Bernardino County has its own lab; Raymundo said it is testing high-risk people like health care workers, people who live in care homes, people over 65, inmates, jail workers and those who have underlying health conditions.

“We do have the capacity to return test results much faster and it is for those populations that the timing of results is incredibly critical,” she said.

Supplies are short through the U.S.

Directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration along with private researchers have all said everything from the swabs pushed into patients’ noses to the substances needed to run tests are in short supply.

“The county could certainly test more people if we could get the supplies to do it,” San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert said.

“There is a nationwide shortage of test kits, kit components and the protective gear test-givers have to discard after nearly every test.”

To keep up with demand, the CDC says the tests are only for people who are showing symptoms and are at highest risk if they do have COVID-19.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science reported that the slow roll-out of testing and shortages are widely attributed to both the stringent rules aimed to ensure the tests are reliable and the “complex web of companies and health care systems responsible for developing, carrying out and paying for tests.”

Companies that produce the test components are trying to respond to the need, working around the clock to increase production, the AAAS said.

Arrowhead hopes for same-day tests

Rodney Borger, chairman of emergency medicine at the county-run Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, said they are doing what they can to improve hospital capacity and increase testing.

“So far we’re doing OK, although there are many identified things that are in short supply,” Borger said.

By early April, he predicted, they should have the ability to do high-volume, same-day COVID testing in the hospital.

“Testing is one of our biggest priorities right now,” Raymundo said. “We know we do not understand the extent or magnitude of this virus right now in our county.”

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