Sansum to Begin Car-Based Testing in Santa Barbara

Tests Are by Appointment Only and Take About 30 Minutes

Residents can now make appointments to be “screened, and subsequently tested at COVID-19 Community Based Testing Sites. | | Credit: CDC

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Sansum Clinic spokesperson Jill Fonte confirmed that car-based testing will be made available for the COVID-19 virus beginning Tuesday morning, but by appointment only and at the recommendation of a patient’s health-care provider.

Santa Barbara County has operated with an extreme shortage of testing kits, though the precise extent of the shortage remains uncertain. According to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department website, 20 tests had been ordered as of Monday morning. Of those, one has been confirmed positive, eight have been negative, and the rest remain pending. 

These tests, however, do not encompass the total universe of tests issued in Santa Barbara County. As private labs came online last week, private physicians have ordered tests of their own, and it’s not clear the extent to which this activity has been reported to public health authorities.

Those contemplating car-based tests, Fonte said, have to ask themselves the following questions: Do you have a fever in excess of 100.4 degrees? Do you have a new cough? Do you experience shortness of breath or pain while breathing? If you answer no to all three questions, you are not currently a candidate for testing and should not go to any health-care facility to ask for testing at this time. For those answering yes to any of these, you will be referred to your health-care provider, where you will be give a subsequent set of questions to determine if you are a candidate for testing. But those who answer yes to one or two of those questions must answer a series of follow-up questions: Are you 60 years old or older? Have you traveled to an affected country? Have you been in close contact with someone who is infected? Do you have any underlying medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, or lung disease?

Fonte said Sansum is allowing patients to determine who their provider is. Some may choose their primary care doctor; others may prefer a specialist. Not clear, however, is what happens for patients who have no doctor. 

Fonte said the test itself — a swab administered to the back of the throat and the back of the nose — the tests are by appointment only, and the appointment should take about 30 minutes. Results, she cautioned, would not be back for four to five days, as the lab handling the tests is located out of state.

The issue of testing capacity has hovered long, loud, and largely unresolved over discussions of county’s preparedness to the gathering pandemic. Social media sites are popping with anecdotal reports of patients who seem to present many of the symptoms — or have come back from trips — and have not been able to get a test ordered. 

Early last week, the county’s total capacity was 42 tests a day, to be split in public labs in Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties. But that was before private labs Quest and LabCorps jumped in. Even with new labs’ involvement, there’s been an unsettling incongruity in the numbers; while Santa Barbara was reporting tests in single and double digits, our neighbors to the north and south were reporting in excess of 100.

Part of that discrepancy, county officials have privately explained, reflects the large number of tests being conducted that have not been reported to county public health officials. Public and private medical authorities are currently working on plans to hammer out a more uniform testing and reporting criteria. Those plans should be released later this evening.

However those results come out, Fonte stressed, COVID-19 remains a syndrome for which there is no cure and no treatment. People who test positive will be required to quarantine themselves. Hospital beds will not be available except for those severely affected. 

CORRECTION: This story and its headline were updated to clarify that the testing is “car-based” rather than “drive-through,” and the story’s subtitle was updated to clarify that tests are by appointment only.

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