In my decades of experience as a physician and public health advocate, I have never witnessed a challenge quite like what we’re facing.
As the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the globe in March, the head of the World Health Organization said that there is one health care measure all countries should adopt immediately: “test, test and test.”
To truly stop the spread of the virus, allow the economy to emerge from its dormant state and reduce deaths, more testing is the answer. And despite our county recently reaching the one million test mark, it remains so today.
As we await a Covid-19 vaccine and the onslaught of the coming “regular” flu season, improving access to testing for Santa Clara County residents is perhaps our most important step to ending the pandemic.
Testing is the only way to quickly identify cases. Testing allows urgent, appropriate treatment for those who test positive and isolation to prevent spreading. Testing also helps us care for those who encounter infected people to ensure that they too can be monitored, isolated or treated.
On a larger scale, testing gives us valuable data, helping public health officials determine the prevalence, spread and contagiousness of the virus.
That is why we have invested so much in staff and equipment to ramp up testing. We had to immediately build, basically from scratch, a robust community testing program to ensure access to everyone who needed a test.
Our leaders entrusted us, and were clear in their mandate: invest in whatever is necessary to ensure that all who need a test can receive a test without cost and do it stat.
The Santa Clara Valley Medical Center is the county’s anchor hospital, and has to date performed more than 300,000 tests. Roughly 210,000 of those tests were at community testing sites that we had to construct and staff. Forty thousand tests were conducted via our newly built drive-through sites at our clinics.
We also have performed 24,000 tests among health system employees in our clinics and three hospitals operated by the county including O’Connor Hospital and St. Louise Regional Medical Center. We have worked hard to ensure access to testing in communities that need it most, including East San Jose and Gilroy.
And we have much more testing to do.
The establishment of mass testing sites requires a protracted process reliant on compliance and due diligence on the part of not just the multiple providers and staff involved, but the recipients as well.
First, you must have access to laboratory capacity. With expertise in our hospital lab, we were able to expand lab capacity up to 3,000 patients a day with additional capacity provided by a commercial lab.
Second, you must marshal resources to staff the testing sites, process the tests and then ensure delivery of results to the patient. It is not easy asking staff to leave their posts at our numerous hospitals and clinics and meet this new need.
Anxiety is high for everyone.
But our staff put their anxiety aside and have been doing what we were trained to do: safely put others in the community before ourselves.
Significant numbers of county staff members have been redeployed to the testing process, from nurses to traffic management to technology to supply management and to drivers who run testing supplies back and forth.
There are not enough words to thank our dedicated staff for rolling up their sleeves, redoubling their courage, and doing the job that must be done to contain the damage being done in our community.
The sacrifices they have made to and for their families and loved ones by working these long, arduous hours for others are the thing of heroes in epic tales. But this is our reality.
With fall and the traditional flu season fast approaching, expanded testing is our primary defense against Covid-19.
The county continues to scale up our testing capabilities, including expansion of our newest testing site at the fairgrounds. Other healthcare systems and healthcare providers in our county are expanding their testing as well.
Our hope is that “testing fatigue” won’t set in among the community, many of whom fall into categories where recurrent testing is recommended for those who interact with the public in their line of work.
Our free testing sites are there for you. Your local government is working hard for you.
We are in this together.
Dr. Jennifer Tong is the associate chief medical officer of the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].