COVID-19 testing for high-priority patients is ramping up in Santa Barbara County with the arrival of equipment from a molecular diagnostics company that allows hospitals and labs to process tests on site with results in less than two hours.
High-priority patients include health-care professionals, first responders, senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions who are symptomatic.
Since late March, County Public Health Department officials have worked to obtain testing equipment from molecular diagnostics company Cepheid, specifically seeking reagents needed to run and analyze SARS-CoV-2 samples.
Staff at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria began COVID-19 testing at their diagnostics lab last week after receiving the necessary reagents from Cepheid.
The hospital has run approximately 300 COVID-19 tests so far, with the capacity for 200 tests per day, according to Dr. Kevin Ferguson, clinical laboratory and pathology medical director at Marian.
Prior to receiving needed testing equipment, Marian sent all patient tests to labs outside the county, with results taking days to return, Ferguson said.
“Currently, local testing is prioritized to Dignity Health Central Coast hospital inpatients, and outpatients evaluated through our Emergency Departments, Dignity Health Urgent Care Centers and Pacific Central Coast Health Centers physicians' offices,” Ferguson said.
Marian also will begin running tests through additional platforms from molecular diagnostics company BD Max on April 20, he added.
COVID-19 test processing at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department lab began Monday after weeks of relying on public health labs in neighboring San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties to process results.
The county's ability to run tests through Cephied's GeneXpert at its own lab is a huge milestone, public health officials said.
"With the Cepheid analyzer, these rapid Tier 1 tests are resulted in under two hours, providing exceptional turnaround times in support of the Public Health Department and the diverse spectrum of health-care facilities within the county," said Dr. Stewart Comer, Public Health lab director.
The county lab will be able to process 200 COVID-19 tests in total with supplies from Cepheid, with plans to procure more reagents from the company in order to sustain its testing capacity, Comer said.
County public health officials have reiterated over the weeks that due to low testing availability in the county, symptomatic individuals who did not fit the high-priority qualifications should stay home and call their doctor if symptoms worsen.
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Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.
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