Why it took Orange County so long to ramp up coronavirus testing

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Public health officials are opening a new drive-thru testing site at the Anaheim Convention Center. Other locations in Orange County might be used for testing too. Photo by Pixabay.

Orange County is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, with increases even higher than in LA County, per capita. Public health officials are opening a new drive-thru testing site at the Anaheim Convention Center, with the goal to do 1200 tests a day. Does this mean county officials are taking the coronavirus threat seriously?

LA Times reporter Gustavo Arellano has his doubts.

KCRW: The coronavirus has been around for months. Why has it taken Orange County so long to ramp up testing?

Arellano: “Orange County is finally thinking maybe, possibly coronavirus might be a thing. The Orange County Board of Supervisors, at least on the Republican side, have been denying this for months. But the facts don't lie. Orange County, just like the rest of California, has seen a huge upsurge in coronavirus cases, and you're starting to see records being broken again and again and again. Now finally, these officials are saying, ‘Well, I guess we should test people.’”

Why is it still typically taking several days to get results?

“It's two things happening. One is just the sheer number of people being tested. These labs across Southern California, they're backlogged because they only have so many workers to process so many tests at the same time. 

The other thing is the type of test that's being done. The most common test is the one that you put the swab up your nose for a couple of seconds. That one usually takes between five to seven days, even if there wasn't a backlog. I haven't really seen in Orange County enough of a push for the ones that the athletes have, the ones where you get your test back within 24 to 48 hours. So until that happens, you're going to see that backlog.”

Is the Anaheim Convention Center the only major site that officials are trying to open up for testing? Are there more coming?

“You're starting to see more and more of the places that you would associate with Orange County ‘fun times’ now being used for coronavirus testing. A couple of weeks ago, Irvine opened up a testing facility at the [Orange County] Great Park, specifically for residents of Irvine or people who work in Irvine. The next step is to open up the Orange County Fairgrounds, with the huge parking lot.

I expect, especially if coronavirus doesn't go away, you're going to see more and more of these Orange County landmarks open up. What's next, the Honda Center? The Huntington Beach Pier?”

The supervisors are at odds with one another. Does that affect how they approach the spike in numbers?

“Absolutely. If you see confusion at the top, kind of like what we have on the federal level, that's going to peter down to the bottom and just have a whole bunch of chaos. The very fact that you're finally getting more of this free testing across Orange County, when this should have been happening months ago, is indicative of that.”

We've spoken about how serious (or not) county officials are taking this virus. We've spoken about the OC Board of Education wanting to open up schools without requiring masks or social distancing. We've spoken about the top public health official resigning after she instituted a mask ordinance and got berated. What's going on in Orange County? Is this another case of Florida?

“This is hubris being taken down by cold reality. I mean, no one wants to have this coronavirus happening. Everyone wants to return to life as it was back in February. In Orange County, delusions are always going to be exacerbated exponentially.”

Credits

Guest:
Gustavo Arellano - Host, 'Orange County Line' - @GustavoArellano

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Jenna Kagel, Kathryn Barnes