California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the creation of a special COVID-19 Testing Task Force. Infectious disease specialists in California and around the world have made it abundantly clear that widespread testing is fundamental to safely “reopen” communities and lessen at least some restrictions previously put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mission of the California COVID-19 Testing Task Force
A public-private collaboration, the mission of the California COVID-19 Testing Task Force is to significantly boost the state’s COVID-19 testing capacity. The Task Force’s mission is highly focused on ensuring appropriate resources to administer a substantially greater number of COVID-19 tests in all points across the state of California.
Goals of the California COVID-19 Testing Task Force
In order to achieve its stated mission, the COVID-19 Testing Task Force has established five principle goals:
- Ensuring California has lab capacity to rapidly turn around test results and increase capacity strategically to meet demand
- Improving the supply chain to ensure that California can both collect samples and evaluate results without delay
- Enabling new, high-quality tests to launch in California as soon as possible
- Improving our ability to accurately track and evaluate COVID-19 testing capacity, results and reporting
- Building the workforce necessary to meet our testing goals
Interim Guidance on COVID-19 Testing Priorities
As COVID-19 testing capacity is ramped up in California, the Governor and the Department of Public Health have established what are known as interim COVID-19 testing priorities. Understanding these interim priorities to be followed as coronavirus testing capacity increases is helpful not only to healthcare and other associated professionals but to the public at large.
The interim testing priorities establishes three tiers for COVID-19 test administration during the time period in which test capacity is being expanded. While testing in all cohorts is important, Tier 1 represents the group of individuals most in need of immediate access to COVID-19 testing. Tier 1 includes:
- Hospitalized patients
- Symptomatic and asymptomatic healthcare workers, first responders, and other social service employees
- Symptomatic and asymptomatic persons over the age of 65
- Symptomatic and asymptomatic persons with chronic medical conditions that increase the risk of severe COVID-19 illness
- Persons identified for testing by public health contact trace investigations and disease control activities in high-risk settings
- Screening of asymptomatic residents or employees of congregate living facilities that include locations where positive cases are identified among patients or staff
- Symptomatic and asymptomatic persons in essential occupations that include grocery store workers, food supply workers, and other public employees
- Lower risk symptomatic persons
Tier 2 includes lower risk asymptomatic individuals. The Task Force desires to expand testing more broadly among this cohort as part of a comprehensive effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Transmission from infected asymptomatic individuals is thought to be a major infection pathway in California and across the United States.
Finally, Tier 3 involves what medically is known as surveillance testing. Surveillance testing involves asymptomatic people in the community as part of a local, regional, or statewide surveillance program to track and control the further spread of COVID-19.
Location of California COVID-19 Testing Sites
California has already established a large number of testing sites. As the Task Force continues its work to expand testing availability throughout the state, additional testing sites will be established. Because this is a developing, ongoing process, the state of California has developed an online Find a Test Site Tool. The Find a Test Site Tool went live on May 7, 2020, is highly user-friendly and is continually updated.
Importance of COVID-19 Testing
The matter of COVID-19 testing has become something of a political football as the federal government, states, and localities develop pathways for “reopening” after the imposition of restrictions on everything from individual mobility to business operations. Despite the raging political debate, the world-renowned Mayo Clinic articulates the universally held position among healthcare professionals and infectious disease specialists in regard to the need for significant COVID-19 testing:
“If there’s one thing the world has learned so far in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the important role of testing for the disease. The ability to know who has the virus and who doesn’t provides critical information for people and entire regions.”
COVID-19 Testing: Primary Component of a Comprehensive Strategy
The reality that widespread COVID-19 testing is a fundamental component of a comprehensive coronavirus containment strategy cannot be overstated. With that underscored, testing is one of six primary elements recognized by infectious disease experts as key to controlling the spread of COVID-19 and enhancing the safety of people as the “reopening” processes moves forward. The complete spectrum of elements of such a comprehensive strategy are:
- Contact tracing
- Social distancing
- Wearing masks
- Washing hands
- COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection
COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection must be undertaken on two levels. Coronavirus cleaning and disinfection needs to be preventative and in the form of tactics to minimize COVID-19 contamination in the first place. COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection needs to include a rapid response modality for immediate remediation when coronavirus contamination is suspected.