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San Benito County Covid-19 testing demand increases

Amid another nationwide surge in coronavirus infections, more people are taking a proactive approach to getting tested. 

At Hazel Hawkins Hospital’s ER/Covid-19 tent, 25 to 30 people are getting tested daily, which is up over the previous weeks. Testing has also been brisk at the Optum Serve site in the Veterans Memorial Building. Public health officials point to a couple of key factors in the increasing number of people opting for a test.

“Due to the recent surge in cases, people are concerned and being more proactive about testing,” San Benito County Health Director Tracey Belton said. “With flu season upon us, there may be more people with flu-like symptoms who want to rule out COVID since symptoms can be so similar. With proximity to the holidays, more people are testing to ensure they are safe to be around family, etc.”

Belton was quick to point out that getting a negative result before gathering with family on Thanksgiving—as will be the case for millions of Americans—shouldn’t give them a false sense of security that they can’t be carriers of the virus. A negative result simply shows someone is free of the virus at that exact moment they take a test—not afterward. 

However, if someone tests negative and then practices basic safety and health protocols like wearing a mask, limiting social gatherings and maintaining social distance, then the likelihood of them becoming infected “before travel is hopefully lower,” Belton said. 

Unlike some larger counties in the Bay Area, San Benito County hasn’t had to open up Covid-19 testing pop-up sites because Hazel Hawkins and Vets Memorial “have been sufficient for our community,” Hazel Hawkins PR Director Frankie Gallagher said. Optum Serve started operations in July, and according to Belton has been instrumental on a variety of fronts. 

“It has had a positive impact on our community,” she said. “It has allowed us to increase our capacity to test more broadly across our population (free, extended daily hours, weekend, central location in the community).”

Health officials are concerned about another surge after Thanksgiving, as multiple households are likely to gather in one location indoors. If meeting indoors, opening windows remains crucial to improving air-flow circulation which will reduce the spread of potential transmission of the virus. 

“That’s where the majority of these (new cases of infections) are coming from, are family gatherings,” Gallagher said. “Flu season has hit us as well, and we really want to emphasize for people to get their flu shots.”

In the case a Covid-19 vaccine gets approved for release in December, Belton said the county has been working with its healthcare partners to make sure they will be ready “to conduct vaccination when the time comes.”

“We will follow all state and CDC guidelines for determining who will receive the vaccine first due to expected initial limited supplies,” Belton said.