Shortages and delays in virus testing drive fuel surge

Difficulty finding coronavirus test kits in many parts of California and delays in getting results are causing mounting frustration and helping to fuel the wave of infections

Negative test results can be a necessity for many activities, from going to work to boarding an airplane or attending a sporting event. Delay in getting results — or the inability to find a test kit — can mean people with very mild or no symptoms assume they aren’t infected and continue their usual routines.

“If you’ve been tested and you’re positive, you know you need to isolate,” said Abraar Karan, an infectious disease physician at Stanford University. “If you can’t get tested, and you don’t have the luxury of just quarantine without knowing, sure, you can let people go out and infect others.”

The spate of cases in California has led to a rising demand for tests that are simply not available in many places. Some mail delivery testing programs in the county have been halted due to exploding demand. In places where tests are available, people sometimes have to queue for several hours.

Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco’s medical school, said she learned it took a lab nine days to return results — longer than someone exposed to COVID-19, possibly in quarantine must.

“If you’re trying to do the right thing, and you’ve decided to wait in line to get a test, there’s no point in waiting long to get actionable information,” she said. “It’s a bit absurd.”

Some people have resorted to paying $100 or more for a quick result – something many cannot afford.

Shane Hirschman, a 36-year-old from San Clemente, said he ordered a mail-in test kit from the Orange County Health Department last week but never received one. When he started feeling sick this week, he said he couldn’t find a home kit in stores and testing appointments had been made at nearby pharmacies. He ended up paying nearly $100 for a quick test to confirm he didn’t have the variant.

“They’ve had a year and a half to sort this out and it shouldn’t be,” he said. “I don’t feel like I can afford $100 every day.”

In Los Angeles County, home to a quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million residents, overwhelming demand led to a temporary halt to a program that allowed people to test at home and return their samples. Public health director Barbara Ferrer said she hopes the testing crisis will ease in the coming days. Meanwhile, she urged restraint.

“Please don’t decide on that because you haven’t been tested, you don’t have COVID and you don’t have to stay home if you have symptoms,” she said. “We’re asking as we try to increase testing capacity and make it much easier for anyone who needs to test to get a test, please stay home while you’re symptomatic.”

California, like the rest of the country, has been overtaken by the ommicron variety, which spreads more easily than other strains of coronavirus. It also more easily infects those vaccinated or previously infected by previous versions of the virus, although it seems less likely to cause serious illness.

More than 5,000 people in California have been hospitalized with COVID since Christmas. In many cases, they went for something else and only found out they were infected during testing.

State models used to predict the impact of the virus show that California could have a record 23,000 people in hospitals with COVID within a month.

Orange County, the state’s third most populous state with more than 3 million residents, is among a growing number of places where hospitals are under pressure from the influx of COVID patients coupled with a large number of nurses and others. workers who are out of work because they have been infected or quarantined for exposure to the virus.

dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s deputy health officer, said many hospitals have resorted to using tents to triage patients, something not seen since a year ago when the state was in the throes of its deadliest increase. Ambulances wait almost an hour to drop off patients.

“It’s a dire situation right now,” she says.

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Taxi reported from Orange County.

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