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COVID surge in Kern County leads to high demand in testing

Posted: 4:07 PM, Jan 12, 2022
Updated: 2022-01-12 23:10:11-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Driven by the increase in COVID cases due to omicron, and folks returning to work or school from the holidays, people want that peace of mind. As a result, local health facilities and clinics are dealing with a surge in demand for testing. That surge has led to a shortage in PCR testing kits, forcing one local clinic to change their testing criteria.

Not only is finding a PCR test harder, but because of the surge in demand, patients are now having to also wait longer for the results. Now, Clinica Sierra Vista made changes to the requirements for someone who wants to get tested.

What is a PCR Test?

RT-PCR test. Also called a molecular test, this COVID-19 test detects the genetic material of the virus using a lab technique called reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). A fluid sample is collected by inserting a long nasal swab (nasopharyngeal swab) into your nostril and taking fluid from the back of your nose or by using a shorter nasal swab (mid-turbinate swab) or a very short swab (anterior nares swab) to get a sample. In some cases, a long swab is inserted into the back of your throat (oropharyngeal swab), or you may spit into a tube to produce a saliva sample.

Results may be available in minutes if analyzed onsite or a few days — or longer in locations with test processing delays — if sent to an outside lab. RT-PCR tests are very accurate when properly performed by a health care professional, but the rapid test can miss some cases.

- Mayo Clinic

The Director of Communications and Marketing at Clinica Sierra Vista, Tim Calahan, shared his recommendation.

“We just encourage people who are experiencing those minor symptoms, scratchy throat, nasal congestion, at this point assume it is COVID and isolate yourself at home, follow the CDC guidance for 5 days, and if those symptoms haven’t resolved, seek a test. But at this point we had to make that decision based on supplies and to be able to test patients.”

Calahan explained that there are multiple factors to this waiting game: “A lot of employers are requiring a PCR test to return to work, a lot of schools are requiring testing for teachers and students to return to the classroom, and on top of that, a lot of people are experiencing symptoms that would drive them to want to be tested.”

In the past two weeks, Calahan said that the clinic’s staff has seen up to 60 cars at a time of people waiting to be tested. As everyone scrambles to find a test, the clinic is making sure they serve the around 150,000 patients they already have.

What is the Difference Between a PCR Test and an Antigen Test?

A rapid antigen test can be administered for individuals with or without COVID-19 symptoms. This test involves collecting nose and throat secretions via nasopharyngeal swab and then examining them for protein fragments specific to the COVID-19 virus. While these tests provide quick results—within 15 minutes—they are generally considered to be less accurate than PCR tests. It’s common to get a false negative (a result that indicates the individual does not have coronavirus when they actually do) or a false positive (a result that indicates a person has coronavirus when they actually don’t). If you are feeling under the weather and received a negative rapid test, you may want to receive the PCR test for further confirmation. However, when administered while someone is at the peak of their infection, rapid antigen tests generally provide accurate results as this is when virus levels in the body are the highest.

PCR tests are similar to rapid tests in several ways, as they can be administered to those with or without symptoms and are conducted with a nasopharyngeal swab. But that’s where the similarities end. PCR tests are considered the gold standard when it comes to COVID-19 testing. In fact, if you have ever been asked to show proof of a COVID-19 test, you were required to provide results from a PCR test. These tests provide more accurate results than rapid tests, and that’s because they use a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to identify the viral genetic material of COVID-19. This genetic material can be detected while a person is actively infected and also after the acute illness. The downside to PCR tests, of course, is that results are not as quick as rapid tests. The general timeline is three to seven days, although it can be longer during peak periods.

- Physician Urgent Care

The Kern County Public Health Department says that across the county the turn around for test results at the beginning of December was 1.8 so more than 24 hours but less than two days. In the past two weeks, it has gone up to 2.2, meaning on average two days.

Adding they will be launching a mobile vaccination effort early next week that will include testing.

Meanwhile, Kaiser is feeling the surge like never before.

“I would say yes, the demand is higher than even at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Dina Madden, Chief Nursing Officer at Kaiser Permanente.

Madden said they started noticing the increase around the holidays and have seen it peak in the past week, noting this is because omicron is a lot more transmissible.

“While we would previously see results in 24 to 48 hours, we’re actually seeing you know 3 to 5 days at the current time because the demand is so high.”

Madden offered an answer for those who no longer have symptoms and are looking for a result confirmation: “A PCR test is pretty sensitive, and so some people can actually continue to show a positive PCR test for 30 days or even longer in some cases.”

Madden echoed Calahan in recommending people follow the five-day isolation period set by the CDC and continue to wear a mask as well as get vaccinated, saying that even though people can still get it, the risk of having a severe case or dying from COVID is much smaller.

Calahan expects this test shortage to only last a couple more weeks as they have seen sharp surges due to omicron also have sharp drops in other places of the country.