The San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department is asking residents to get tested for COVID-19 only if they are at high risk for transmission or serious illness, according to a press release. This request follows increasing demand for COVID-19 testing in the county.
County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein said county testing supplies will now be prioritized for high risk individuals including essential workers, healthcare workers, symptomatic individuals and those who have confirmed coronavirus exposure.
“If you are an asymptomatic, lower risk individual, please do not seek a test at this time to help those who are most vulnerable get tested,” Borenstein said. “High-risk residents are telling us they now have to wait eight or more days to get a testing appointment.”
Other COVID-19 high-risk individuals include older adults and those with underlying medical conditions, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). High-risk individuals who contract COVID-19 may require hospitalization, intensive care or a ventilator to breathe, according to the CDC.
At sixteen public and urgent care testing locations and three pop-up testing sites countywide, a viral test is offered to detect if a person currently has COVID-19. San Luis Obispo County uses a nasal swab that tests for the virus’s RNA or proteins.
Following a viral test, one of three results may come back: positive, negative or not definitive. Tests may occasionally result in a false positive, which means that a person tests positive but does not have COVID-19, or a false negative, which means that a person tests negative but does have COVID-19, according to a report from the White House.
Nasal swab tests are 98 to 99 percent accurate, according to County Public Health Spokesperson Michelle Shoresman.
Each person who tests positive for COVID-19 is counted as one positive case in San Luis Obispo County, regardless of how many times they test positive.
The county advises individuals unable to schedule an appointment at a testing location to contact their primary care provider.
Effective August 7, the county will bill medical insurance new fees to offset the cost of offering COVID-19 tests to the public, according to a press release. These costs include reagents, test kits and staff time.
Borenstein said this development will allow the county laboratory to maintain a revenue stream.
“Persons themselves will not bear the cost, but this will allow our laboratory to get revenue that will allow the ongoing testing support needed over the course of this pandemic,” Borenstein said in a press release.
Since COVID-19 has prevented consumers from going out and spending money, the county expects a $32 million to $52 million budget shortfall this fiscal year, according to a press release.
A budget shortfall means the county’s budget is larger than the county’s revenue.
This shortfall is 5 to 10 percent of San Luis Obispo County’s general fund budget, which is similar to what other local jurisdictions are facing, as consumer spending impacts local, state and federal budgets, the press release read.
The testing fees billed to medical insurance will bring an estimated $300,000 to $400,00 in revenue, according to the press release.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a relief package for Americans and small businesses, is expected to offset a portion of expenses from previous COVID-19 tests.