As Bay Area Faces Surge In Cases, Officials Modify Testing Requirements

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March 24, 2020 - 5:30 pm
Kaiser Permanente Opens Drive-Thru Coronavirus Testing Station In San Francisco

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The coronavirus pandemic has been challenging public health officials across the Bay Area, and globally, to come up with better ways of understanding the virus, how it spreads and how to flatten the curve.

With tests being done by private labs, new initiatives have launched to keep track of all the data that is being collected.

All COVID-19 test results must be now be reported — positive, negative and inconclusive — as part of a new public health order for Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, as well as the City of Berkeley.

Dr. John Swartzberg, UC Berkeley Public Health Professor Emeritus, told KCBS Radio that seeing all aspects of the test results help professionals understand the epidemiology of the disease.

“Negative results give us a good idea of who’s having symptomatology and getting tested, or who may be at risk and getting tested,” Dr. Swartzberg said.

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He said that without better test tracking, the public health system is flying blind.

“It helps us understand where to allocate our resources,” Swartzberg said. “It also helps us understand where we are on this curve.”

Swartzberg said the Bay Area is “undoubtedly” going to face a surge in coronavirus cases. Keeping more detailed records about test results could help prepare for it, he said. 

In San Mateo County, which had t161 confirmed infections on March 24 — the second most in the Bay Area behind Santa Clara County — supervisors warned that the crisis is far from over. 

Louise Rogers, chief of San Mateo County Health, told KCBS Radio that hospital capacity needs to almost double. The extra test data could help them understand what the implications of those needs are locally, she said. 

She told the County Board of Supervisors that flipping beds, finding space currently unused in hospitals and getting outside resources, including tents could create much needed additional capacity. 

A spike in cases is expected in late April through mid May, according to the county's planning. 

The shelter-in-place order may also help relieve the pressure on health facilities, she said. 

“It’s not only flatten the curve, but it’s to delay the spike in demand,” Rogers said.

Written by Mallory Somera, with reporting from Doug Sovern and Margie Shafer.