COVID-19 testing: Some Bay Area counties continue testing despite CA's call to prioritize lines amid backlog

SAN LEANDRO, Calif. (KGO) -- Early this week, California's public health officials sounded the alarm on backlogs for COVID-19 test results, prompting them to ask local health providers to prioritize testing.

But, as many counties open more testing sites, are they following that guidance?

At a newly opened COVID-19 testing site in San Leandro, an online screening will get you an appointment.

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Supervisor Wilma Chan and San Leandro Mayor Pauline Cutter were on hand to get tested and encourage those who feel they are at risk for the virus, to do the same. Neither of them have any symptoms.

"The fact that we are even being able to test is such a great leap for us," said the Mayor.

Mass testing used to be a goal that most public health officials could agree on. But as counties ramp up testing and COVID-19 positive cases surge, the state issued new guidelines on who should get tested first until the backlog is resolved.

The tiered system puts anyone in the hospital with symptoms, those who have been exposed to the virus and essential workers at the top of the list.

Quest Diagnostics, one of the private labs overwhelmed with cases, also asked that healthcare providers limit the number of tests they forward for patients who are low risk.

Here's where it gets complicated. Backlogs aren't happening everywhere in the state and counties say they have to follow their own priorities.

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Alameda County public health officials say they are still in the process of reviewing the new guidelines.

"It's confusing for people because the guidelines change and first it was symptomatic only and then everyone get tested, we have to take a look at what's right for our community."

Supervisor Chan says she's not prepared to tell anyone not to get tested, even with the backlog.

"I would personally not give that message, I hope we don't have to give that message, I'd like to see more universal testing, that would be my goal."

It's two conflicting messages -- test as many people as possible and limit testing because of the backlog in some areas. And it applies differently depending on the area. For example, a pop-up testing site in San Jose where anyone can get a test is being run by Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Their labs don't have a backlog.

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Santa Clara County public health officials say their priority is to test as many people as possible in high-risk areas. Some public health experts say the real problem -- the lack of a national testing strategy.

"It's not particularly well-coordinated and they are doing what they can to get as much testing as possible," said Dr. Robert Wachter, Chairman of the Department of Medicine at UCSF.

At the San Leandro testing site, Chan said that's also what she's focused on, right now.

"A lot of it is just gearing up the whole country and getting these labs to do more and so we are going to continue to lobby Washington."

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