Santa Clara County updated its local COVID-19 testing order Monday, allowing health care providers to offer rapid antigen tests in addition to higher-sensitivity PCR tests.
County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody first issued the testing order in September 2020.
While the updates to the testing health order are not drastic, county officials said they intend to spur private health care providers to pick up more of the county’s overall testing burden.
Under the order, health care providers are required to provide access to either an antigen or PCR COVID test within 24 hours of a patient’s request, regardless of whether they request a test in person, by phone or online.
The updates to the order also bar providers from referring a patient to another health care provider or a county-operated testing facility when they request a test.
“We’ve made these adjustments to reflect the latest testing recommendations and guidance, the availability of reliable antigen testing and to really ensure that we’re building a long-term sustainable infrastructure,” county Counsel James Williams said at a briefing Monday to announce the changes.
Williams argued earlier this month that testing by large health care providers like Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health Palo Alto Medical Foundation lagged behind the county’s health system, which is the primary provider for roughly 15 percent of county residents but has conducted 20 percent of local tests.
Cody’s initial order laid out requirements that primary care providers increase their testing capacities and the speed at which they report results to patients.
Cody said Monday that revisions to the order were necessary to reflect the availability of rapid antigen testing and the need for more testing conducted by large health care providers.
She predicted “a transition of sorts … back to the way that we traditionally work where you would go to your health provider for vaccines and testing, and our role at the county will be more our traditional role, which is ensuring access and removing barriers for people who are the most vulnerable in our community.”
Cody also noted that Monday represented the two-year anniversary of the county confirming its first COVID case.
“Now we’re in our fifth wave,” she said. “We’ve been through many Greek letters and we’re now in the midst of omicron.”
The county is on the downslope of its omicron-related surge in cases, she said, although local metrics are not falling as fast as they rose.
Cody said one of the county’s biggest accomplishments since the pandemic began is its robust vaccination rate – 83.5 percent of all county residents have completed their initial vaccination series – which she argued reduced much of the virus’ harm locally, even as more than 2,000 county residents have died due to COVID.
“I think in the months and perhaps years ahead, what we can anticipate is that we will continue to see peaks and valleys,” she said. “We won’t know how often those peaks will come and how difficult or relatively easy those peaks will be, but we do know that they’ll come.”