Normalcy Plans Depend on Reliable COVID-19 Testing, But Confusion Reigns

State and local officials are making plans to relax the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, but first people need to get testedocal

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Most people want tests to see if they’re infected with COVID-19, or if they’ve already had it and are now immune. The problem is first finding the tests and then making sure the results are accurate.

That’s easier said than done. Even health care providers don’t have the answers.

In order to realistically and safely re-open the country, health officials say it’s critical to know who has the virus as well as who survived it and is now immune.

“Without that we’re really flying blind” said Encinitas Dr. Georgine Nanos. “I think to open up without having those tests available to every single person anywhere they are at a low affordable cost is a huge mistake.”

Not only is it difficult for people to get tests, Nanos told NBC 7 her medical practice is also having difficulty. Part of the problem is a lack of oversight after the FDA fast-tracked the development of tests.

“The quality is questionable,” she said. “There are a lot of bad tests out there, not necessarily because people are trying to defraud the system, but just because they haven’t had any real scientific oversight.”

San Diego County Public Health officials closed down a testing site at Mira Costa College in Cardiff, citing concerns over the accuracy of the tests people were lining up to get.

NBC 7 visited another test site in La Jolla operated by One Medical, a primary care practice that offers virtual care as well as in-office and lab visits. One Medical is waiving membership fees and offering the tests free of charge after patients sign up on the internet.

The test site location is not revealed until after the patient has an online consultation.

“They drive up and a clinician will insert about a 6-inch swab into the nose, get some respiratory samples from the nose, and then that’s really it and then they’re on their way,” said Medical Director Dr. Natasha Bhuyan.

Bhuyan says One Medical’s test are FDA approved and the swabs are processed by licensed labs. At this point they can test for active cases of COVID-19 but not for antibodies, which signify a patient has already had the disease and is now immune.

In the two weeks since the mobile clinic opened, One Medical has conducted about 100 tests, but say they are ready to test many more people. “We are able to offer hundreds of swabs and hundreds of testings per week,” said Bhuyan.

People who want to get tested may face challenges in the near future. Even health officials recognize the need for more testing. In San Diego County nearly 28,000 people have been tested since the coronavirus first became recognized as a threat.

“I think it’s worth the wait to get it right, but it’s extremely frustrating in the process,” said Nanos.

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