Pictured: County operated free, walk-in testing site at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Photo submitted.
by Kimberly Rivers
The process of testing for the coronavirus, receiving results and reporting them to the individual and the public has not been without a few bumps in the road. For local and state agencies this is the first time — in living memory — that this type of massive response has had to be planned, set up and carried out.
County health officials say those testing positive should hear the results within, on average, two to three days after they were tested. But it may take longer for those test results to be reflected in the counts reported by the county.
“When a person is tested at any location . . . their demographic information is collected and included with the specimen that is sent to the processing laboratory,” explained Erin Slack, an epidemiologist with the maternal, child and adolescent health programs of Ventura County Public Health. She is responsible for providing the daily public report, which reflects cases reported as of the previous day. “I download the data between 6:30 and 8 a.m. each day, which reflects everything in the system as of the previous day.”
Members of the public can choose to get tested at a drive-through or walk-up site operated by the county, with their physician or in the emergency room. There are also testing sites operated by private companies or nonprofit organizations; some cost money. One nonprofit testing company, for example, charges $150 per test at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. The county has also opened up a walk-up testing site there, which is free.
At all testing locations, the demographic information of the person is recorded and the order for the test “are often transmitted electronically in advance of the specimen being received” by the lab that will conduct the test.
“Once the laboratory receives and processes the specimen, they enter the result into their electronic health record system,” Slack explained. “Most laboratories then electronically submit laboratory results directly to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) in CalREDIE, the state communicable disease surveillance system. Once they are submitted to CDPH, they assign it to the local health jurisdiction based upon the demographic information provided with the lab specimen. Then, we receive the result in the disease incident staging area and create a case to initiate the case investigation.”
This means the results of the test are transmitted first to the state, then the county is provided with the data for public reporting.
“On average, this process takes four days from specimen collection to when we receive the results in CalREDIE, but it can be shorter or longer depending upon the processing time at the laboratory.” Slack said the county strives “to initiate contact with the case within 24 hours of receiving the laboratory result. Physicians are also mandated to report positive cases, so we may also receive notification from the physician prior to receiving the laboratory report.”
In most cases, Slack said, people who test positive are notified fairly quickly and “before they are included in our count because they have been notified by their medical provider or testing location.”
In the past few weeks, the state reported a problem with how data was being received and reported to local jurisdictions, which may have resulted in positive cases being underreported in some areas.
Slack said the county received and processed all the updated data over Aug. 8-9. “The state indicated that they have resolved the data issue and sent all the backlogged incidents to the counties for processing.” The info was included in the reports issued on Aug. 10.
Another issue in the county was related to email notifications that were supposed to be sent to those who tested negative for the virus.
“We recently had an issue with the automated notification with our pop-up testing locations,” explained Barry L. Zimmerman, chief deputy director of the Ventura County Health Care Agency, responding via email. “The automated notification system is initiated by the lab as the lab results are uploaded. The link to automate this process for the pop-up locations was not programmed correctly, but has been corrected.” He said all results from those drive-through and pop-up testing sites should be reported to the person tested within two to three days after the date of the test.
Current Ventura County counts are online at: www.vcemergency.com