News

Santa Clara County cracks down on hospitals falling behind on COVID-19 testing

Under new order, providers must immediately test residents with referral, symptoms or exposed to virus

A Stanford Medicine technician in Dr. Benjamin Pinsky's lab sorts through patient samples for COVID-19. Local hospitals, including Stanford, must provide easy and timely access to COVID-19 tests under a new Santa Clara County health order effective Sept. 25. Courtesy Steve Fisch/Stanford Medicine.

Santa Clara County announced Wednesday a new public health order forcing local health care providers — including Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health — to provide quick and easy access to COVID-19 testing, following widespread complaints that residents have been wrongly denied tests.

The order, which goes into effect Sept. 25, comes after months of pressure by county officials to get private hospitals to ramp up testing, giving teeth to requirements that have been largely ignored since June.

Essential workers and those who come in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 are entitled to a test by any health care provider that has an acute care hospital in Santa Clara County, regardless of whether they show any symptoms. But county officials say those requirements have not been met, and people are routinely being denied a test or are forced to navigate a labyrinthine process to get tested.

Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody said testing must ramp up in order to get a handle on the virus, particularly as schools begin to reopen. About 40% of people with COVID-19 may not show any symptoms at all, she said, making it more important for tests to be easily accessible and widely available.

"If you don't know you have COVID, you can't take measures to protect people in your household or your workplace or anywhere else," Cody said during a virtual press conference announcing the order.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

Kaiser Permanente, Stanford, Sutter Health and El Camino Hospital are all included in the public health order. Recent data suggests that all four have not provided enough tests to meet the county's requirements, leaving it up to the county's health care system to pick up the slack.

In the week of Aug. 31 through Sept. 6, Santa Clara County provided 13,072 COVID-19 tests, followed by Kaiser at 4,261 and Stanford at 3,243.

Cody was joined Wednesday by a coalition of 10 mayors across Santa Clara County, including Mountain View Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga and Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine. During the Zoom call, Fine said his city is blessed with world-class hospitals that have stepped up to test essential workers, but that more needs to be done to increase capacity. Every time the city hosts a COVID-19 testing site with the county, he said, there is a line around the block.

"I've heard far too many stories that tests are hard to find, hard to get and take too long to get useful results," Fine said.

Under the new order, large health care providers are required to provide immediate testing to any county resident who shows up in person with symptoms of COVID-19, has been exposed to a confirmed case or has been referred for testing by the county's Public Health Department. If residents ask for a test online or by phone, they must be provided a test no later than the following day.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

Hospitals are given more flexibility for essential workers, and are obligated to provide a test within three business days. In all cases, test results must be given within three days of the test.

Essential workers eligible for tests include teachers, school staff, grocery store clerks, first responders and health care workers.

'I've heard far too many stories that tests are hard to find, hard to get and take too long to get useful results.'

-Adrian Fine, mayor, Palo Alto

The testing order also prohibits any practice that would discourage or delay access to COVID-19 tests, said County Counsel James Williams, which is a direct response to widespread reports that hospitals have made it difficult for residents to get tested. Under the new testing order, hospitals must provide information on testing availability — consistent with the new county health order — on websites, in waiting rooms and in promotional materials related to COVID-19.

"Too many people still don't know they can, and have the right, to get tested through their health care providers," Williams said.

Bay Area hospital officials have criticized the county's testing order for being unrealistic, and said that supply chain shortages out of their control have made it difficult to expand testing capacity beyond the patients who need it most. But County Supervisor Joe Simitian said organizations like Kaiser and Sutter have the resources to ramp up testing and finally come into compliance with testing requirements that have technically been in effect since June 10.

"There really is no excuse for large health care systems not to have stepped up and done their fair share and comply with the public health order," Simitian said.

'Too many people still don't know they can, and have the right, to get tested through their health care providers.'

-James Williams, counsel, Santa Clara County

Another incentive for boosting COVID-19 testing is the prospect of more businesses and schools reopening in Santa Clara County. Under the state's new tiered framework, counties that can achieve higher levels of testing are able to open more sectors of the economy — including indoor dining and other services that have been prohibited since March. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said reopening depends on the county's ability to test, and that it's time for private health care providers to step up.

"The only way we're really going to beat this virus is by having all of our health care providers pushing with us," Liccardo said.

Anyone who believes hospitals are violating the public health order can file a complaint with the county at scccovidconcerns.org. Under a county law passed last month, businesses that violate public health orders can be fined for up to $5,000.

A video of the press conference can be found here.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Santa Clara County cracks down on hospitals falling behind on COVID-19 testing

Under new order, providers must immediately test residents with referral, symptoms or exposed to virus

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, Sep 16, 2020, 2:12 pm

Santa Clara County announced Wednesday a new public health order forcing local health care providers — including Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health — to provide quick and easy access to COVID-19 testing, following widespread complaints that residents have been wrongly denied tests.

The order, which goes into effect Sept. 25, comes after months of pressure by county officials to get private hospitals to ramp up testing, giving teeth to requirements that have been largely ignored since June.

Essential workers and those who come in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 are entitled to a test by any health care provider that has an acute care hospital in Santa Clara County, regardless of whether they show any symptoms. But county officials say those requirements have not been met, and people are routinely being denied a test or are forced to navigate a labyrinthine process to get tested.

Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody said testing must ramp up in order to get a handle on the virus, particularly as schools begin to reopen. About 40% of people with COVID-19 may not show any symptoms at all, she said, making it more important for tests to be easily accessible and widely available.

"If you don't know you have COVID, you can't take measures to protect people in your household or your workplace or anywhere else," Cody said during a virtual press conference announcing the order.

Kaiser Permanente, Stanford, Sutter Health and El Camino Hospital are all included in the public health order. Recent data suggests that all four have not provided enough tests to meet the county's requirements, leaving it up to the county's health care system to pick up the slack.

In the week of Aug. 31 through Sept. 6, Santa Clara County provided 13,072 COVID-19 tests, followed by Kaiser at 4,261 and Stanford at 3,243.

Cody was joined Wednesday by a coalition of 10 mayors across Santa Clara County, including Mountain View Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga and Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine. During the Zoom call, Fine said his city is blessed with world-class hospitals that have stepped up to test essential workers, but that more needs to be done to increase capacity. Every time the city hosts a COVID-19 testing site with the county, he said, there is a line around the block.

"I've heard far too many stories that tests are hard to find, hard to get and take too long to get useful results," Fine said.

Under the new order, large health care providers are required to provide immediate testing to any county resident who shows up in person with symptoms of COVID-19, has been exposed to a confirmed case or has been referred for testing by the county's Public Health Department. If residents ask for a test online or by phone, they must be provided a test no later than the following day.

Hospitals are given more flexibility for essential workers, and are obligated to provide a test within three business days. In all cases, test results must be given within three days of the test.

Essential workers eligible for tests include teachers, school staff, grocery store clerks, first responders and health care workers.

The testing order also prohibits any practice that would discourage or delay access to COVID-19 tests, said County Counsel James Williams, which is a direct response to widespread reports that hospitals have made it difficult for residents to get tested. Under the new testing order, hospitals must provide information on testing availability — consistent with the new county health order — on websites, in waiting rooms and in promotional materials related to COVID-19.

"Too many people still don't know they can, and have the right, to get tested through their health care providers," Williams said.

Bay Area hospital officials have criticized the county's testing order for being unrealistic, and said that supply chain shortages out of their control have made it difficult to expand testing capacity beyond the patients who need it most. But County Supervisor Joe Simitian said organizations like Kaiser and Sutter have the resources to ramp up testing and finally come into compliance with testing requirements that have technically been in effect since June 10.

"There really is no excuse for large health care systems not to have stepped up and done their fair share and comply with the public health order," Simitian said.

Another incentive for boosting COVID-19 testing is the prospect of more businesses and schools reopening in Santa Clara County. Under the state's new tiered framework, counties that can achieve higher levels of testing are able to open more sectors of the economy — including indoor dining and other services that have been prohibited since March. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said reopening depends on the county's ability to test, and that it's time for private health care providers to step up.

"The only way we're really going to beat this virus is by having all of our health care providers pushing with us," Liccardo said.

Anyone who believes hospitals are violating the public health order can file a complaint with the county at scccovidconcerns.org. Under a county law passed last month, businesses that violate public health orders can be fined for up to $5,000.

A video of the press conference can be found here.

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

Concerned about PAMD
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2020 at 3:30 pm
Concerned about PAMD, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 16, 2020 at 3:30 pm
14 people like this

My dad recently had outpatient surgery at the SurgeCenter at PAMF, Palo Alto. I asked his nurse how often they test their STAFF. She said they don't.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 17, 2020 at 2:19 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 2:19 am
10 people like this

PAMF didn't even start having staff wear until April 4th when they sent out a newsletter announcing that. I remember that date well because of the horrendous conditions my partner and I saw during our appointments in mid-March and tried in vain to report then.

Thank you, Joe Simitian. Wish we'd thought to contact you directly to report the abuses at PAMF in mid-March. That might have saved much of the frustrations discussed here in Town Square then.


Acoustic instruments can speed up testing.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2020 at 10:35 am
Acoustic instruments can speed up testing., Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 10:35 am
8 people like this

From the NY Times yesterday... NYC hospitals are testing 40,000-60,000 people per day using a test that uses the Echo (acoustic technology) to eliminate the laborious, time consuming task of pipetting.

This instrument was created locally in Silicon Valley. Does Stanford have one? If so, could it be used for this purpose?


More accuracy
Registered user
Portola Valley
on Sep 17, 2020 at 12:31 pm
More accuracy, Portola Valley
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 12:31 pm
4 people like this

"About 40% of people with COVID-19 may not show any symptoms at all, she said, making it more important for tests to be easily accessible and widely available."

Does this statement infer daily or very frequent constant testing of asymptomatic people? Will testing of everyone in a school be performed every 3 days, or the average time for onset of symptoms, if any?


TimR
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2020 at 1:47 pm
TimR, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 1:47 pm
2 people like this

I went to the "roving" Flugent site a few weeks ago, and they have 50 testing slots for every 15 minutes of appointment blocks. That comes to 200 tests an hour. And yet, when I was there for my appointment, I was the only one getting a test, and I saw one person leaving and one person entering behind me. There is PLENTY of testing capacity, and Dr. Cody must know that. She needs to stop beating around the bush and blaming the medical community for what is clearly a lack of desire from citizens to be tested. Instead of complaining all the time, she needs to do some PSA's and the like, and try to get people into the sites that already exist, and have plenty of staff sitting around doing nothing but waiting to test people.


Concerned about PAMF
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 18, 2020 at 3:47 pm
Concerned about PAMF, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 18, 2020 at 3:47 pm
15 people like this

TimR - Our whole family are PAMF patients, have been for years. Why can't I go to PAMF to get a test? Now I believe you need to be exposed, showing symptoms or getting a procedure in the SurgeCenter to get tested. Why is PAMF not testing their staff?


TimR
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 18, 2020 at 5:52 pm
TimR, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 18, 2020 at 5:52 pm
4 people like this

Concerned about PAMF, I don't know. But it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have testing available all over the place, at hundreds of different sites. At least not right now with the nasal swab test (with the quicker tests it'll be different). It's just too inefficient and would waste a lot of resources right now. And what's wrong with going to one of the places that already do tests with no questions asked? Is it that difficult that you need exactly what you want, instead of what's being offered around the county?


Concerned about PAMF
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 21, 2020 at 1:59 pm
Concerned about PAMF, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 21, 2020 at 1:59 pm
8 people like this

@TimR, I think its reasonable to expect my health care provider to provide the health care I need. In this case, I'm a PAMF patient, I would expect to provide me with any testing or health care that I need, unless it is something they are not equipped to do. As an example, since I was going to be caring for my dad after his surgery, I wanted to be tested the same day he was, PAMF refused.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.