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Don’t expect widespread COVID-19 testing anytime soon in Santa Barbara

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A growing number of people have complained about feeling downright crummy; feverish with a deep cough and chest congestion and some are worried they could have contracted the coronavirus. 

However, they say they can't get tested.

During a press conference Thursday night, Santa Barbara County Public Health officials reiterated the criteria that needs to be in place in order for a person to be tested for COVID-19. The guidelines are an effort to minimize swarms of people with runny noses or sore throats from jamming up testing labs and health care services that are needed for people who are critically ill. 

A recent posting on Nextdoor illustrated the growing frustration among people batting what could be symptoms of suspected coronavirus.  

A man living on the Mesa with suspicious symptoms described how, over the phone, urgent care said they wouldn't treat him, and referred him to the local emergency room at Cottage Hospital. He explained that he contacted the ER and was told they had no testing kits and referred him to Santa Barbara County Health. The man called the County next and was told that they, too, had zero test kits.

Dr. Richard Danson, a long-practicing Santa Barbara internist, is equally concerned over the lack of local testing for the highly contagious coronavirus.

"I had a patient call me today (Wednesday) saying, 'Dr. Danson, I want to be tested for the COVID-19 virus.'"

The doctor shared the conversation he and his patient had, using the patient's wording.

'I was visited by an acqaintance from Korea who came in on February 26. On March 5, I developed symptoms.'

Body aches, extreme fatigue, and a deep cough were among the Goleta man's symptoms.

Danson said he made numerous calls and found that there are test kits at several labs.

"And although the kits were available, unfortunatly the mechanism to test the patients i.e., actually swab the patients, was not available," Danson said. 

Danson said he made calls to various local infectious disease experts, the ER at Cottage Hospital, and other health officials. He said all gave the same response: 'We don't have any way to do this.'

Santa Barbara County Public Health officials said Thursday that simply wanting to be tested does not meet the criteria. However, testing is available mainly for those 65 and older, patients with underlying lung or heart issues, compromised immune systems, and those already hospitalized. 

Currently, COVID-19 testing for patients in Santa Barbara County is only happening in Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties. As of Thursday night, at least six patients in Santa Barbara had been tested. 

"We are still just in the position where we have to be judicious about who gets tested," said Paige Batson, Deputy Director for Santa Barbara County Public Health. 

Medical experts are hoping test kits will soon be available in Santa Barbara County. Still, Batson said, those tests will be designated for those most at-risk.

"Don't anticipate that the testing will become so widely available such as what we're currently doing for influenza. I don't anticipate that happening in the near future," Batson said. 

Danson is urging the public to support the County's efforts, follow CDC guidelines to avoid large meetings and, encourage elected officials to fast-track funding so large-scale testing can be done. 

"This way we'll truly know the full extent of infection," Danson said.  

In northern Santa Barbara County, officials with Lompoc Valley Medical Center issued the following statement:

"We understand the rapidly expanding COVID-19 virus has led to great uncertainty, and confusion, in our community. Most or all healthcare providers in Santa Barbara County, including LVMC and its entities such as Lompoc Health, do have the ability to collect the required COVID-19 specimens for testing as directed by California Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. No local health provider currently has ‘test kits,’ as they do not exist. ‘Test kit’ is a misnomer and oversimplification of the current required process. The process requires obtaining the specimen (according to current Public Health guidelines) and sending it to an approved lab with the capability to then perform the test." 

California / Community / Coronavirus / Economy / Health / Home / Latino / Lifestyle / Outdoors / Safety / Santa Barbara- S County / Travel / Ventura County

Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT NewsChannel 3.