Contra Costa County Expands Coronavirus Testing

Expanded Testing Key to Return to Normal

By Denis Perez-Bravo

Latasha, whose last name and age are not being given to protect her privacy, has recently called off from her job at a nursing home because of headaches.

The Richmond resident is one of many in Contra Costa County with headaches, dry cough, sore throat or other symptoms that have submerged their minds into deep worry that they may have contracted the novel coronavirus.

“I have a lot of fear. I just hope I’m having bad headaches because of the anxiety I have,” Latasha said.

As part of a county effort to curb the spread of the virus among health care providers, her workplace made an appointment for her at one of the Contra Costa Health Services testing sites. The nearest to her is in the neighboring city of San Pablo at the West County Health Center on San Pablo Avenue.

She was tested Monday.

That same day, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added headaches to the list of coronavirus symptoms. Other symptoms added are chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

Symptoms may appear two to four days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms or combinations of the symptoms above may have the coronavirus, according to the CDC.

“I needed to get tested, so I can know,” Latasha said.

Her routine has been a safe one, she said, going to work and directly back to her house.

Nevertheless, she worries. And she is happy that the county is providing drive-thru testing.

“It subsides my anxiety,” she said.

Because she is a health professional, Latasha qualifies to get her test results in 24 hours. Any other resident would have to wait three to five days, Contra Costa Health Services public information officer Will Harper said.

Both drive-thru and walk-up testing is available free of charge for county residents, though people are advised not to come without an appointment.

All testing sites in the county are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The coronavirus testing at the West County Medical Center consists of a doctor wearing a gown, mask, face shield and gloves providing written information about the test to the patient. Then, the doctor will check the patient’s temperature through one of the ears and then stick a 5-inch swab up the patient’s nostril. The swab is then placed into a small tube. The tube, which preserves the sample, will then be placed into a biohazard bag. Dozens of bags are then put into a chilled cooler and a courier will pick the cooler up and transport it to medical labs, where the samples will be tested.

Apart from West County Medical Center, other sites that opened up to the public last week were the Contra Costa Public Health Clinic Services in Concord, Martinez Health Center and Pittsburg Health Center. On Monday, the Antioch Health Center also started providing the same services.

Another test site will be added in San Ramon in the coming week, Contra Costa County Deputy Health Officer Rohan Radhakrishna said.

“Testing is an essential part of our strategy to better understand the pandemic in our county and know when and how to safely and slowly reopen society, but it is only a piece of the puzzle,” Radhakrishna said.

As of at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, the county has tested 12,406 people. Since opening testing to all county residents on April 22 up to April 27, the county has tested 2,263 people.There are 842 cases in Contra Costa County overall, including 103 cases in Richmond and 49 in San Pablo. The county has seen 25 deaths related to the coronavirus, and 27 residents are currently hospitalized. These numbers and more are available at CCHealth.org.

“Our first priority is symptomatic individuals in high-risk settings,” Radhakrishna said.

These high-risk people are residents who live in congregate care facilities, homeless people, health care workers, first responders, dialysis and chemotherapy patients and hospitalized people.

The second priority is “symptomatic everybody.” And the third priority is asymptomatic people in high risk settings, Radhakrishna said. An asymptomatic person shows no signs of being sick, though they may still be infected and contagious.

The shelter-in-place order has been extended through May. And to be able to reopen the county and the state, there has to be an army of testers, disease detectives, enough protective equipment and both data and a workforce to monitor and prevent a surge of positive cases in our healthcare system, he said.

The first step to getting to that place is to be able to test everyone. But there are impediments to doing that.

“There are barriers that vary daily like supply of swabs, transport vials and laboratory staff to run the test. Right now we are testing 200 to 400 people per day in the county and want to increase that to 1,500 per day,” Radhakrishna said.

County health officials say that residents who believe they may need to be tested for the coronavirus should call 1-844-421-0804 for a phone call screening and appointment date.

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