State virus test­ing in­creases but data, de­lays pose prob­lem

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Cather­ine Ho

The num­ber of coro­n­avirus tests con­ducted in Cal­i­for­nia more than dou­bled, to nearly 67,000, up from 27,000 on Mon­day, as dozens of new test­ing sites re­ported num­bers to the state, Gov. Gavin New­som an­nounced Wed­nes­day.

Un­til mid­March, just 22 pub­lic health labs in Cal­i­for­nia and some pri­vate lab com­pa­nies like Quest and Lab­Corp con­ducted tests. But last week, dozens of health care providers, uni­ver­si­ties, small labs and com­pa­nies also be­gan test­ing. Among them were Kaiser Per­ma­nente, Stan­ford and Ver­ily, a divi­sion of Google’s par­ent com­pany Al­pha­bet.

Not all of the sites had sub­mit­ted test data to the state in a way that al­lowed them to be counted.

For ex­am­ple, Kaiser Per­ma­nente in North­ern and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia con­ducted 12,000 tests that were not in­cluded in pre­vi­ous pub­lic counts, New­som said at a news con­fer­ence.

Now, the gov­er­nor said, “We’re mak­ing sure they’re in line with our col­lec­tion data. Over the last week we’ve been scrub­bing all those, get­ting down into the small­est col­lec­tion labs to make sure ev­ery­one is on the same page.”

Be­cause of the crit­i­cal need for test­ing and ac­cu­rate num­bers, the state is try­ing to trans­form Cal­i­for­nia’s de­cen­tral­ized test­ing sys­tem into a uni­fied, sin­gle re­port­ing sys­tem.

But Cal­i­for­nia still isn’t test­ing enough peo­ple.

“It’s not good enough,” New­som said. “We want to see more tests in the state of Cal­i­for­nia, smarter and more tar­geted test­ing, and more com­mu­nity sur­veil­lance.”

Cal­i­for­nia has done far fewer tests than New York, which had con­ducted nearly 104,000 tests as of Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to the Covid Track­ing Pro­ject, a data­base of state test­ing data com­piled by jour­nal­ists at the At­lantic.

One ex­pla­na­tion is that New York state started test­ing more peo­ple sooner than Cal­i­for­nia be­cause the state re­quested and re­ceived emer­gency­use au­tho­riza­tion from the FDA to start us­ing its own lab­de­vel­oped test on Feb. 29. At that time, Cal­i­for­nia was us­ing tests sup­plied by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

“New York was able to start test­ing ear­lier than states that were wait­ing for the CDC test,” said Dr. Eric Blank, chief pro­gram of­fi­cer of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Pub­lic Health Lab­o­ra­to­ries.

The FDA data­base of ap­proved emer­gency­use au­tho­riza­tion shows the agency never au­tho­rized such a test for Cal­i­for­nia. It is un­clear if Cal­i­for­nia de­vel­oped a test for which the FDA de­nied au­tho­riza­tion, or whether the state never de­vel­oped a test. The Cal­i­for­nia Department of Pub­lic Health did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to the ques­tion Wed­nes­day.

Long wait times to re­ceive test results are also ham­per­ing pub­lic health of­fi­cials’ abil­ity to fully un­der­stand how quickly the virus is spread­ing.

Of the 66,876 tests con­ducted in Cal­i­for­nia, results for nearly 73%, or 48,600, are pend­ing.

Physi­cians and pa­tients who have been tested have com­plained that it takes up to 10 days to get results back.

Many tests have to be sent from clin­ics and doc­tors’ of­fices to labs in an­other part of the state, and labs wait un­til they have enough tests to run a batch; this means many peo­ple are wait­ing at least four to seven days to get results back.

Only test­ing sites that use in­house labs, such as Stan­ford Health, or sites that im­me­di­ately send sam­ples to a nearby lab, like the Hay­ward fire sta­tion site that uses a lab in Menlo Park, are able to get results back within a day. But same­day and next­day results are the ex­cep­tion, not the rule.

Mean­while, New York has re­ported nearly 31,000 cases and 285 deaths — by far the most out of any state — while Cal­i­for­nia has re­ported nearly 2,600 cases and 59 deaths, even though the states were neck and neck in num­ber of cases dur­ing the first week of March.

“Far and away, New York City and state have far more cases and are do­ing a higher level of test­ing, on the pub­lic health side and on com­mer­cial side,” Blank said. “There’s a lot more test­ing ac­tiv­ity go­ing on in New York, rel­a­tive to Cal­i­for­nia. Right now New York is the hot spot.”

John Min­chillo / As­so­ci­ated Press

Pa­tients wear personal pro­tec­tive equip­ment as they wait in line for a COVID­19 test in New York City. The state has con­ducted about 104,000 tests.

Brit­tany Hosea-Small / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

A woman speaks to fire­fight­ers at a walk­up screen­ing ta­ble at Hay­ward Fire Sta­tion #7 on Mon­day. The test­ing lo­ca­tion is free to those who are sick, first re­spon­ders and health care work­ers.

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