State adopts new testing guidelines

Growing backlog of lab tests sparks new priorities for COVID-19 screening

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

State adopts new testing guidelinesAs California cases of COVID-19 surge to 350,000, with nearly 250,000 of those identified as active, state officials adopted new guidelines prioritizing who should be tested.

The burgeoning screening numbers have triggered delays in the ability of labs to process test results. About a month ago patients waited 2-3 days for results. Time to process is now estimated between 10-12 days.

Free, drive-through testing in communities across the state — including the partnership between Ridgecrest Regional Hospital and Kern County offered in the Indian Wells Valley — had previously encouraged anyone, for any reason, to pursue testing.

On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined four tiers that purportedly put cases with high risk factors at the head of the queue. Those categories include:

Tier 1 — hospital patients with COVID-19 symptoms,

those identified by state and local health officials as part of outbreak management, close contacts of those who test positive for the virus

Tier 2 — anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, people with no symptoms who live or work in high-risk settings (those who work in health care, emergency services, skilled nursing homes, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, etc.); and hospital patients who need to be tested before admission, for a medical operation or upon discharge

Tier 3 — workers who have frequent interactions with the public or cannot maintain six feet of distance from others, including those in retail, manufacturing, food service, agriculture, food manufacturing, public transportation, education and child care.

Tier 4 — asymptomatic people who are not included in the earlier tiers “but believe they have a risk for being actively infected,” and routine testing by employers

The delay in processing has triggered several logistical challenges. Patients who suspect they are infected are directed to quarantine for 14 days. Many of those cases will not find out their results — given the current delay — until their quarantine is concluded.

Most patients who need to be screened need results by three days in order to move forward with surgeries, operations and other procedures. By 10-12 days, the information is considered too old to be usable.

As of Tuesday, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital had reported 69 positive results of COVID. About 62 of those were individuals who lived in our service area, however, hospital officials noted that all of those who tested positively were individuals who had mixed with residents.

RRH has conducted a total of 2,778 tests since March. At press time 635 of those results were still pending.

(More detailed information is available at the RRH dashboard,

RRH officials noted that, because they use an external lab to process results, they have been impacted by the backlog.

Officials at the California Department of Public Health are estimated that labs are averaging about 100,000 tests per day.

“RRH is working closely with the external lab who have informed us that they are working 24/7 to manage their backlog and process results as quickly as possible for our community,” said a hospital spokesperson.

“If you were tested due to a known or possible exposure or are experiencing COVID-like symptoms, please continue to quarantine, stay home away from others and monitor your health.”

RRH has a limited capacity for in-house testing, which can be used for emergency-room patients only due to the nationwide shortage of supplies.

Those with the worsening symptoms, including the following, should seek immediate help:

• trouble breathing

• persistent chest pain

• new confusion

• inability to wake or stay awake

• bluish lips or face

Pictured: Estefania Castro, RRH medical laboratory assistant, with a biofire machine which can be used for limited processing.

Story First Published: 2020-07-15