Santa Clara Co. officials emphasize importance of COVID-19 testing

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Health officials in the Bay Area's largest county say they're seeing a dramatic drop in testing for COVID-19. They're also reminding the public to think twice before gathering in large groups this holiday weekend.

"If you're going to come in contact with other people make sure you have your mask on," said Santa Clara County COVID-19 Testing and Vaccine Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, as he urged residents to stay vigilant with warm weather conditions expected for Easter.

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Multiple COVID-19 "variants of concern" as defined by the CDC have been detected in the county, which officials say is a troubling trend as more activities reopen.

Fenstersheib added, "We are now seeing a lot of variants which seem to be more transmissible, more contagious, and so we need to people to make sure (they're getting tested) especially if they're putting themselves at any risk."

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Right now, the public is only making use of approximately 30% of the county's testing capacity, which is around 30,000 per week. With more variants popping up, officials are urging the public to avoid non-essential travel. They're also reminding essential workers who have yet to be vaccinated to get tested at least once a month.

"People are forgetting about testing and it's a really important tool to keep using," said Fenstersheib. "I know the vaccine is coming and a lot of people have been vaccinated, but we cannot forget that testing is critical."

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As California opens up vaccine eligibility in April, more supply is on the way from federal authorities. Next week, Santa Clara County expects to have around 50,000 first-dose appointments available to the public. Infectious disease experts say the vaccines plus the use of common sense will play key roles in keeping people safe.

"We're nowhere near the herd immunity that we need for unvaccinated people to really let down their guard," said Dr. Anne Liu, a professor at Stanford School of Medicine.

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