Check hurdles: District is engaged on overcoming tools shortages and hiring extra laboratory employees

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: A county employee waits for a person to wipe himself or herself for a COVID-19 test in a University of San Diego parking lot on July 15, 2020.

Recently, San Diego County increased the number of daily COVID-19 tests, but now there’s a new roadblock – staff and equipment shortages.

“We’re expanding our lab staff, and many of our hospital partners and even community clinics are doing three shifts seven days a week to meet demand, but … there’s a backlog on testing equipment,” said Nick Macchione, the county health authority directs.

Listen to this story from Matt Hoffman.

Nationwide testing is also increasing, and commercial labs like Quest Diagnostics say they cannot keep up with demand. If people are not a priority patient, they can wait seven days or more for test results.

“We know that is not acceptable and they are trying to do better,” said Macchione.

The new government guidelines recommend prioritizing testing and test processing in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 symptoms, followed by other symptomatic and high-risk individuals who may have been exposed to a positive case. The county is prioritizing tests the same way and working with a local company to get them done quickly.

RELATED: California Revises Testing Guidelines If Virus Rises

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As reported by Matt Hoffman, video by Andi Dukleth

They partnered with local biotech company Helix to run up to 2,000 tests a day. Results are promised within 24 hours. This partnership takes the pressure off the district laboratory, which, according to official information, will now focus on processing tests related to outbreaks.

“We prioritize the groups because these groups need to be tested,” said Macchione. “And we’re seeing more cases … so we’re going to have more people … who need to be tested. The Helix county tests, which are now up to 2,000 a day, are actually going to allow us to do the same, if not more testing. “

Currently, most tests for high priority patients are done in the County Lab within 24 hours, while other tests can take three or more days to get results.

Although the county reports the total number of tests on a daily basis, they don’t do most of the processing.

About 30-35% of the tests are done in the County Lab. Macchione said the rest will be processed by hospitals and commercial laboratories.

“Rest assured that we at the district laboratory and our hospital partners are working with our new partners and now Helix to meet the needs of our district region,” said Macchione.

The county says they ran the risk of closing some test sites due to supply shortages, but because of the partnership with Helix, they can now stay open.


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Matt Hoffman

General Assignment Reporter

I am a general assignment reporter at KPBS. In addition to covering the latest news and topics relevant to the San Diego community, I love to dig deeper to find the voices and perspectives that other media outlets often miss.

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