Marin County, Calif., officials are eyeing a $1.6 million proposal to have a Bay Area health technology company take over the county’s drive-through coronavirus testing site at the Civic Center.
(TNS) — Marin County, Calif., officials are eyeing a $1.6 million proposal to have a Bay Area health technology company take over the county’s drive-thru coronavirus testing site at the Civic Center.
The move could speed up the turnaround time for coronavirus tests in Marin. Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, residents are waiting up to four times longer for test results than they were in early June — a trend that could cripple attempts to contain the virus.
The county Board of Supervisors is set to approve a three-month agreement on Tuesday with Burlingame-based Color Genetics, which processes testing samples at its own laboratory and delivers results to patients within one to two days in most cases, according to a county report. The company runs virus-testing sites in San Francisco and Alameda counties.
Color Genetics would take over the testing operation at the Civic Center on Wednesday, according to the county’s public health officer, Dr. Matt Willis. The company would administer 300 tests per day on weekdays. The site would remain closed on weekends.
At maximum capacity of 300 daily tests, the company would administer 18,000 tests total over the three-month period. Color Genetics would charge the county $1.6 million for “all testing and logistics,” the equivalent of about $90 per test, according to a county report. The costs are “expected to be reimbursed by a combination of state and federal revenue,” the report says.
“While the county is covering the cost of this testing in the interest of public health, Color will collect resident insurance information so the county can seek reimbursement from their insurance providers,” the report says.
The Marin County Public Health Department opened the drive-thru testing facility at the Civic Center in early March. Residents initially needed a doctor’s recommendation to get tested there, but now they can sign up for an appointment without one. Nearly 9,000 tests have been performed there.
The testing at the Civic Center is free for residents, but running the facility over the past four months has cost the county about $950,000, or about $108 per test, according to Assistant County Administrator Dan Eilerman.
That includes $250,000 in pay for county employees who have been tapped as “disaster service workers” during the pandemic, Eilerman said. Those workers would now be able return to their normal jobs with the county, Eilerman said.
The public health department sends testing samples to three different labs for processing, and typically gets results back in two to three days, according to Willis. But the department’s staff is stretched thin, and in some cases is unable to communicate test results to patients on the same day the results come back from the lab, officials said. That has elongated the turnaround time.
Appointments for testing at the Civic Center fill up quickly, which also adds to the time it takes to confirm a coronavirus diagnosis. Lately, patients are finding that appointments aren’t available until a week out, according to Willis.
Color will offer 80 more tests per day than the 220 that the public health department is capable of administering. The company has “superior scheduling tools” for appointments and it inputs testing results directly into an electronic system, according to the county report. It also transports testing samples to labs more frequently than the county does, the report says.
The county’s public health workers and volunteers will continue to administer coronavirus tests by setting up “mobile” testing sites in locations experiencing outbreaks, Willis said. That includes skilled nursing and residential care facilities, which account for about 10% of Marin’s confirmed cases, and workplaces, which also have been a major source of transmission in Marin, according to Willis. Mobile testing will also continue in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood, where cases are surging, Willis said.
The state has set up a testing site in the Canal neighborhood with the capacity to test about 130 people per day, but the turnaround time is even longer than at the county’s site. Appointments must be booked a week in advance and test results come back a week after that, according to health officials. In some cases, patients are waiting up to 12 days to get their results from the state’s site, said Dr. Lisa Santora, the county’s deputy public health officer.
Anyone can get tested in Marin if the person has COVID-19 symptoms or has been exposed to somebody with a confirmed diagnosis, Willis said. County health officials are also encouraging anyone working for an “essential business” who cannot work from home to get tested for the coronavirus once a month, even in the absence of symptoms.
Marin County set its record on Sunday for the highest number of new coronavirus cases recorded in a day, with 107 newly reported infections and one new death. The county reported an additional 54 cases and another death on Monday, bringing the total to 2,288 confirmed cases and 31 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
According to health officials, 1,699 people have recovered from COVID-19 in the county and 32 people with the coronavirus were being treated in Marin’s hospitals on Monday.
©2020 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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