As COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations drop across Santa Barbara County, so do the test results reported.
“Testing is more important now than ever,” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said this week.
Test results help health officials identify positive cases quickly, order people to isolate and trace their contacts to look for people who could have been infected.
“Some may think testing is not important now that we have the vaccine available; however, I just want to underscore that vaccines are still in limited accessibility and it will take many months to vaccinate our entire county,” she said.
Santa Barbara County has been consistently reporting more than 10,000 test results weekly since early November.
The Public Health Department reported a peak of 23,953 test results for the week ending Jan. 12, as the virus was surging in the community, and reported 13,851 for the week ending Tuesday, according to a Noozhawk analysis.
Local testing capacity was limited earlier in the pandemic and swamped over the holidays when more people were traveling, but Do-Reynoso said it is widely available now and encouraged people to get tested.
“Anyone who is experiencing symptoms, has been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, lives or works in a congregate setting, or who is an essential worker should get tested,” Public Health says. Everyone is eligible, though, and the county encourages “all community members” to get tested.
Many doctor’s offices, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies now offer COVID-19 testing, and there are eight county and state-run testing sites that are free and are open to everyone, regardless of symptoms or health insurance.
The county’s mobile testing unit moved to Procore’s parking lot in Carpinteria this week, where it can test 500 people daily. It was previously in Waller Park in Santa Maria.
Although novel coronavirus and COVID-19 are used more interchangably now, COVID-19 is the disease caused by the virus, which was first discovered in late 2019.
Why Testing Is Important
Testing helps identify individual cases, and surveillance testing can help catch potential outbreaks before they begin — that’s the reason for frequent testing of skilled nursing facility workers.
The rate of testing for skilled nursing workers is determined by the community’s testing positivity rate — the lower it is, the less frequent the testing.
The testing positivity rate, the percentage of tests that have positive results, is used to gauge community transmission of the virus in a way that is not as influenced by the number of tests.
When transmission of the virus is high (as it was for most of January and February), there is twice-weekly testing for skilled nursing workers. When transmission is low, there is monthly testing required, according to the Public Health Department.
School reopening plans include regular surveillance testing for teachers and other district employees, and state guidelines require youth athletes and coaches in certain contact sports to get tested weekly.
UC Santa Barbara conducts regular testing for students and staff members who live or work on campus.
Reporting higher numbers of test results can help counties advance through the state’s color-coded reopening system as well.
Each county’s case rate (new positive daily cases per 100,000 residents) is “adjusted” based on the amount of testing.
Santa Barbara County’s case rate is regularly adjusted downward since its rate of tests per 100,000 people is higher than the median rate across California.
“When more community members get tested for COVID-19, it helps bring our case rates down, which means we can continue reopening more sectors of our community,” Public Health says.
The county is currently in the most restrictive purple tier, but soon will move to the red tier, under which more indoor activities are allowed.
Do You Need to Get Tested If You’re Fully Vaccinated?
That depends, according to Dr. Henning Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County public health officer.
Individuals are considered fully vaccinated at least two weeks after they receive the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, or at least two weeks after they receive a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most people who are fully vaccinated probably do not need to get tested, or isolate, if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19 and experience no symptoms, according to the CDC.
Fully vaccinated people should isolate and may need to get tested if they have COVID-19-like symptoms, Ansorg said.
Common coronavirus symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headaches, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.
Even fully vaccinated people have to participate in ongoing surveillance testing at nursing homes and other places, but that could change, Ansorg said.
As of Sunday, 8% of Santa Barbara County residents were fully vaccinated, with 37,052 second doses administered and 73,673 first doses administered, according to Public Health.