coronavirus pandemic

Gov. Newsom Activates CA National Guard to Support COVID-19 Testing Capacity

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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that he is activating the California National Guard to help with COVID-19 testing sites and boost capacity.

In a statement, The Governor's Office said that over 200 Cal Guard members will be deployed across 50 sites "to increase access to testing quickly, increase staff and add walk-in capacity beginning Friday and throughout the coming weeks."

The Governor's Office added that a COVID-19 testing site in Antioch began receiving assistance from the National Guard earlier Friday.

On Monday, the Antioch site will double the number of testing windows to four and double the number of appointments per day, according to officials.

The Governor's Office said that sites in Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties will also receive assistance from the National Guard in the coming days.

The surge of cases in California has led to a soaring demand for tests that in many places simply can’t be found. Some county mail-in testing programs have been halted due to exploding demand. In places where tests are available, people sometimes have to wait in line for several hours.

There’s also been a lag in obtaining test results. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiology professor at University of California, San Francisco’s medical school, said she heard one lab was taking nine days to return results — longer than someone exposed to COVID-19 may have to quarantine.

“If you are trying to do the right thing, and you decided to wait in line to get a test, having a long time to get actionable information is not helpful,” she said. “It’s sort of absurd.”

Some people have resorted to paying $100 or more for a rapid result — something many can’t afford.

Shane Hirschman, a 36-year-old from San Clemente, said he ordered a mail-in test kit from the Orange County health agency last week but never received one. When he started feeling sick this week, he said he couldn’t find an at-home kit in stores and testing appointments at nearby pharmacies were booked. He wound up paying nearly $100 for a rapid test to confirm he didn’t have the variant.

“They’ve had a year and a half to sort this out and it shouldn’t be like this,” he said. “I don’t feel like I can pay 100 bucks every day.”

California, like the rest of the country, has been overtaken by the omicron variant, which spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus, though it appears less likely to cause severe illness.

Since Christmas, more than 5,000 people in California have been admitted to hospitals with COVID. In many cases, they went in for something else and only learned they were infected upon testing.

State models used to forecast the impact of the virus show that within a month California could have a record 23,000 people in hospitals with COVID-19.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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