County Public Health Lab Now Capable of Testing for Novel Coronavirus

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The County Public Health Laboratory is now able to test for the novel coronavirus, which causes respiratory disease known as COVID-19. Having this capability means that San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency will no longer have to rely on the Centers for Disease Control for testing suspected cases of COVID-19, drastically reducing the time it takes to receive results. 

With the lab’s testing capability up-and-running, the HHSA will be able to do up to 40 tests in one run. San Diego will join in with dozens of other labs across the country that have become certified by the CDC to test for the novel coronavirus. 

Before, the County Public Health Lab had to send specimens to the CDC for testing, with results taking several days to return. Now, potential cases of COVID-19 will have their results within 24-48 hours. 

“This is great news for San Diego County and will help with our ongoing efforts to contain COVID-19,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “Being able to test locally means that when we have patients under investigation, we can more rapidly remove unneeded restrictions from those without infection.  Should someone test positive, we will continue to keep them isolated.”

A total of 141 people are under public health supervision in San Diego County due to them being at risk of having been exposed to the coronavirus. So far, 390 people in San Diego have been monitored for the infection, with 249 people having completed their monitoring. So far, there have been two confirmed cases in San Diego, both of which are under federal quarantine at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar after being repatriated from Wuhan, China. 

“The number of specimens we’ve been getting for testing is currently low, but we expect the need to increase,” said Brett Austin, director of HHSA’s Public Health Lab. “We are ready to increase capacity as required.”

The CDC recently changed its testing criteria for COVID-19 after doctors urged the CDC to test a hospitalized patient in critical condition. After refusing to do so for several days, the CDC finally relented and allowed for testing. The test came eventually came back as positive for COVID-19. 

In San Diego, authorities say the risk of COVID-19 is still very low, especially if you have not traveled to areas where the virus has been detected. “We want to assure the public that we are prepared and are conducting surveillance just like we do for any communicable disease,” Wooten said.

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