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As of Saturday morning, county health authorities are still reporting no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Santa Barbara, but the number of tests reported has gone up to 15. That’s an increase of nine tests — up from six the day before. Of those, the results of six are negative and nine remain pending.
Testing protocol has been shifting on an almost daily basis reflecting the relatively recent role of private testing labs in easing testing shortages and the attendant logjam. These changes have likewise added some confusion as to the numbers. Until Thursday evening, for example, the official number of tests conducted had been seven. At the press conference Thursday night in which the local state of emergency was announced, the number shifted down to six. Part of the confusion stems from recent changes in protocol.
Initially, all tests had to be approved by the county health officer. Now — with the arrival of two private testing labs into the local market — physicians have greater latitude in ordering tests on their own. Two of the tests, for example, had been submitted by the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics’ outlet in Goleta.
The shortage of tests kits has prompted serious concern and criticism both nationally and locally. The social media website Nextdoor has been blowing up with a few accounts describing how individuals presenting many of the symptoms of the virus were denied tests with the explanatory caveat that there were no kits in the county.
County health spokesperson Jackeline Ruiz stated, “The county does have supplies needed to collect specimens and is evaluating supplies countywide at this time for specimen collection.” However, explained Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s health official, the logjam has included swab collection kits, which are made in China and not as available as medical professionals would like.
The capacity of labs to process such tests is finite even if all the component ingredients are in abundant supply. There has been a significant shortage, however, of the reagent chemicals in the test kits, a problem Governor Gavin Newsom has likened to having an abundant supply of printers but without the necessary ink cartridges.
Clarification: County health officials specified that both the swab sampling kits and the test kits for COVID-19 are in short supply, and that testing has increased only slightly.