Shasta County Public Health’s COVID-19 Tests Are Dwindling: Now What?

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Image from the CDC.

Shasta County Health and Human Services Public Health Department offers live press briefings that occur 11 a.m Monday, Wednesday and Friday and can be found on their Facebook and YouTube pages. Their COVID-19 specific site, Shasta Ready, addresses the concerns of medical providers and ordinary citizens with resources, prevention tips, and FAQs, as well as a place to report stay-at-home violations.

Regarding COVID-19 testing in Shasta County, the Shasta Ready site reports that medical providers collaborate with the public health department, which will decide if someone needs the test, and that public health follows CDC guidelines to decide who gets tested.

Shasta County Health and Human Services advises medical providers to collect specimens from individuals who meet the CDC’s Tier 1 criteria for COVID-19 testing. Tier 1 includes people who are both symptomatic and either hospitalized, or have had exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 patient, or are an individual living in a congregate living facility, such as a jail, homeless shelter, or long-term care facility.

In other words, to meet CDC Tier 1 criteria, which Shasta County is currently using, a person would have to be both symptomatic and fall into one of the categories above. A SCHHS spokesperson said that private labs can test people in the CDC’s Tier 2 criteria, which includes those above age 65 with significant underlying medical conditions, or anyone a medical provider thinks needs to be tested.

CDC’s Tier 1 testing is already a fairly restrictive metric. But according to the public health department, testing is now even more restricted, not due not to the county’s lack of COVID-19 test kits, but to its lack of the related extraction kits,  which allow them to prep the specimen for testing. During the Shasta County HHSA’s April 1 press conference , Dr. Karen Ramstrom, Shasta County Health Officer, said that the county has a very limited number of these extraction kits left.

Exactly how many more patients does Shasta County have the capacity to test? “After today, somewhere in the mid-forties,” she said. That was four days ago.

According to Ramstrom, the county is urgently waiting for additional extraction kits that were expected to have been delivered last week. While they are hopeful more will be delivered in the next few weeks, Ramstrom said she knows Shasta County is in competition for these kits with other counties, some of which have already run out of test kits.

This means that despite the public health department’s March 31 announcement of confirmed community transmission of COVID-19 in Shasta County, local testing for the disease will not be expanding. Ramstrom explained that with so few remaining tests available,  those tests are being saved for the highest priority cases, such as a symptomatic individual from a congregate facility like the jail.

Going forward

Shasta County is not alone. Nationwide, because of the lack of test kits, counties lack the ability to stop or slow the pandemic through broad testing. But it’s not the only constraint to stopping the disease. Recently released research indicates that one in four cases of COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning that unless everyone is tested, it’s impossible to effectively isolate everyone who’s contagious. Additionally, according to research coming out of China , the false negative rate for COVID-19 testing may be as high as 30 percent, meaning three out out of 10 people who are actually sick with the virus might test negative.

Given the north state’s limited COVID-19 testing capacity, and the possibility of a false negative, even for those who are tested, combined with the likelihood of an asymptomatic infection, the way forward is clear: Shelter in place, wash hands often, and practice good self-care.

Annelise Pierce
Annelise Pierce is fascinated by the intersection of people and policy. She has a special interest in criminal justice, poverty, mental health and education. Her long and storied writing career began at age 11 when she won the Louisa May Alcott Foundation's Gothic Romance short story competition. (Spoiler alert - both hero and heroine die.) Annelise welcomes your (civil) interactions at AnnelisePierce@anewscafe.com
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15 Responses

  1. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    The way that South Korean government smothered their COVID-19 growth curve was to assemble the nation’s pharma companies the day after their first confirmed case (same day as ours) and command that they develop and produce test kits.

    Then South Korea tested aggressively. And they didn’t just test those with symptoms. They tested as many people who had been exposed to positive cases as possible, and quarantined them as well.

    Meanwhile, under Trump’s leadership of denial, dismissal, and dallying, we did next to nothing for six weeks. As a result, tens to hundreds of thousands of Americans are going to unnecessarily die. And Trump continues to tell the bald-faced lie that we have enough of everything, including test kits.

    This national shit-storm deserves to go down in history as the Trump Thumb-twiddling Holocaust. Instead, he’s getting a little goose to his approval rating. Unbelievable.

    • Avatar Doug Cook says:

      What is left out in South Korea’s response is their amended Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act. The government was given the ability to access citizens’ credit card records, cellphone GPS data, bank records, and the wide-ranging network of security cameras. During dangerous epidemics, authorities have warrantless access to private data. The South Korean government’s warrantless access to personal data enabled effective epidemic response, but with a Big Brother invasiveness that would be totally against American standards of personal privacy.
      Washington was also hampered by cumbersome rules which, unlike in South Korea, constrained the private sector from responding to the need for tests.

      • Avatar Annelise says:

        Doug, yes very difficult trade off. Just like the shelter in place is a limit on our freedom for the sake of the higher good. You’re right that what is tolerated in other countries for the sake of the greater good is very unlikely to be tolerated here.

    • Avatar Annelise says:

      Steve, I rarely agree with Trumps leadership style but I don’t personally feel that focusing on his failures is a useful path forward. This time will require all of us to be courageous, creative and resourceful. I think Any president would be hard put to manage this crisis. We must each do the best with what power and resources we have. For me that looks like ignoring Trump for the most part and moving forward with what other leaders are pushing.

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        Annelise — I think it’s important to continue to call Trump on his bungling for several reasons:

        1. Millions of his followers hang on his every word and base their behavior on his actions and advice. It’s fine for you and I to ignore him, but individual behavior is not how social distancing succeeds in containing the disease. To best work, it needs to be a population-level effort. He continues to undermine that.

        2. He continues to put rank amateurs in charge of the federal effort—most notably, his judgment-challenged son-in-law. These are people whose sole agenda is to retain power. Kushner’s biggest success thus far is eliciting pissing contests with state governors.

        3. He continues to peddle pie-in-the-sky cures (the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine) and The miracle disappearance of the pandemic just over the horizon, against the advice of experts. He calls this “optimism,“ but it’s so distractive and destructive that it’s looking more and more like crimes against humanity.

        There’s no ignoring the most powerful and inept leader on the planet.

        • Avatar Annelise Pierce says:

          Steve, but how does continuing to state this kind of thing solve anything? Seems like those who follow him just feel more convinced with everything anti-Trumpers says that Trump is in fact, a demigod.

          • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

            Annelise — I agree that holding Trump accountable is something that needs to happen down the road.

            But I also feel that the daily White House misinformation vomitorium press conferences need to be countered. I wish it wasn’t necessary to point out daily that the POTUS is misleading the country, but I don’t think it’s avoidable. He has to be challenged.

  2. Avatar Anita Brady says:

    Limited tests but so many negative test results? I question whether the criteria are working. Yes, it is good news that those folks are negative, but seems like a higher % should be positive is the criteria is being used properly.

  3. Thank you, Annelise, for this informative article that answers so many questions about Shasta County COVID-19 testing.

  4. Avatar christian gardinier says:

    But, But, But wait…. Trump told reporters March 6 during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta that, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test. That’s what the bottom line is….” And if I not mistaken, President Trump just told governors on a conference call last Monday that he had not “heard about testing in weeks,” suggesting that a chronic lack of kits to screen people for the coronavirus was no longer a problem… Gee Wiz, did Mr Trump tell a lie? Naw, couldn’t be…

    Well, I would count on LaMalfa or the either of the Dahle Dynasty for any help to get more testing in the North State, but one way to get a test is to just go on down and see Trump and Pence personally, or any of their nepotist oligarch friends, they can hook you up. After all, the North Stated vote BIG for them because Trump and his LaMalfa – Dahle team will protect us! Right? According to Politico:

    “The White House is administering a rapid coronavirus test to anyone coming into contact with President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence.”

    “As the Physician to the President and White House Operations continue to protect the health and safety of the President and the Vice President, starting today anyone who is expected to be in close proximity to either of them will be administered a COVID-19 test to evaluate for pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic carriers status to limit inadvertent transmission…”

  5. Avatar Miguel says:

    Profoundly disturbing. We keep hearing that testing is ramping up .. or soon will be. Apparently that is simply not to be the case in our community .. now, or any time in the immediate future. This not good news at all. Scary in fact.

    Good luck all. And stay safe.

  6. Avatar Jist Cuz says:

    I wouldn’t be too concerned about politics at this juncture. When everyone knows people whom have died, as soon most of us will, the masses will want to blame someone and the head cheeze party is obvious +!+

  7. Avatar Annelise Pierce says:

    Good news, Dr. Ramstrom mentioned during today’s COVID-19 briefing that the County has received additional extraction kits, no mention of how many as far as I heard.

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