Hoping to gather more data, Contra Costa will not restrict COVID-19 testing

Candace Anderson, chair of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, undergoes testing for the coronavirus at a county-run drive-through location in Concord following a May 7 press conference to announce availability of testing for everyone.

In a move to generate more data that will guide officials about relaxing health orders and permitting business to reopen, there are no longer any restrictions for who can be tested for the coronavirus in Contra Costa County.

By opening the floodgates, county health officials are hoping to reach 2,200 tests per day through multiple drive-through locations. This would be four to five times more than the current daily rate of 500 tests.

Health officer Dr. Chris Farnitano noted that indications are trending the right way, but he appealed for the public’s patience. He asked residents to continue practicing social distancing, using masks and not letting their guard down just yet.

He said increasing the level of testing – and data – are “critical” going forward.

If a person tests positive, isolation will be ordered and a contact tracing team will leap into action to learn whom that person has interacted with so those other individuals can be contacted for testing.

Before the county’s latest announcement, tests were only offered for patients with symptoms of illness who received an order from a doctor.

All testing by appointment

All Contra Costa Health Services-run sites will offer drive-through testing by appointment only. These sites are in Antioch, Concord, Martinez, Pittsburg, San Pablo and San Ramon. Patients must visit these sites in their vehicles, as testing is done in the car.

Three new state-run sites also opened on Wednesday in Brentwood, Pinole and Walnut Creek. They accept walk-in patients by appointment only.

Call 1-844-421-0804 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily for an appointment at any Contra Costa site. Callers will receive a call back from a health professional to schedule an appointment.

There is no upfront cost for testing, and county residents do not need medical insurance to get tested. However, if you have health insurance, your insurance will be billed.

Reasons to get tested

Farnitano said there is “not much variation” in positive cases from one city to another, therefore, he perceives a greater need for more testing.

Examples of when individuals should be tested include people who interact with more vulnerable populations, like nursing homes, or are in situations that make them more susceptible to contracting the virus. Monthly tests are recommended for those who work in congregate living facilities and care centers.

While you don’t need symptoms to get tested, symptoms that may warrant a test include cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, fatigue, muscle aches, sore throat, headache, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, recent loss of taste or smell, or confusion, particularly in older adults.

Images of a several-inch long swab being inserted up one’s nostril and apparent discomfort associated with the test may deter people from stepping forward to be tested. To put the public at ease, county Board of Supervisors Chair Candace Andersen took the test before a throng of local television cameras and reporters on May 7.

“It tickles the nose,” she said initially after the test was completed. “But I wouldn’t say it is uncomfortable.”

How best to move forward

She said testing “is very important” in order to get a better sense of how widespread COVID-19 is in our community and to help prevent further spread.

Farnitano lauded the public for “a lot of cooperation in following the orders” to shelter in place and close businesses. The focus of local law enforcement will continue to be about education if businesses or individuals engage in prohibited behavior.

But as surrounding locales lessen restrictions and begin opening, Farnitano warned about the risk of traveling to other areas.

“The Bay Area is not an island,” he noted.