State COVID testing sites begin to close

In summary

As the state prepares to end the state of emergency, sites with the least demand will close first.

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California is preparing to close dozens of state-run COVID-19 testing and treatment sites before the planned end of the state of emergency in February.

Sites that are operating below 50% capacity are scheduled to close before the end of January. Forty-four OptumServe sites will close this week and 48 mobile “minibuses” will begin closing in two weeks, according to the California Department of Public Health. OptumServe, a healthcare operations company, runs 123 test and treatment sites along with four vaccination clinics through state contracts.

The health care giant has at least four contracts, under its old Logistics Health name, with the state totaling $1.05 billion to provide testing and vaccination services, though it has been criticized in the past for its bumpy rollout. Another branch of the company signed an additional $47 million contract to design a data management system for COVID-19 test results.

“A final plan to demobilize the remaining sites is being prepared, but we have not set a completion date,” an unnamed department spokesperson said in a statement. The state health department only responded to emailed questions and did not attribute the statement to an individual.

The state of emergency, which has provided additional funding and staffing flexibility at medical facilities, is scheduled to end on the last day of February.

“We learned a lot through this COVID response, and we need to make sure we don’t lose those gains.”

dr. Mark Ghaly, State Secretary of Health and Human Services

The closures come just a week after Governor Gavin Newsom released his January budget proposal, which transfers $614 million in unspent COVID-19 response funds to the state’s general fund and dramatically reduces the amount of pandemic money for next year.

Last year’s budget included $1.8 billion for the state’s COVID-19 emergency response and long-term strategy, while the proposed budget for the next fiscal year is just $176.6 million. The cuts come as the state faces a projected deficit of $22.5 billion, according to Newsom’s proposal. State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said on a budget call with reporters that most of the proposed decrease comes from fewer state testing responsibilities, but stressed that the spending reductions are not ” a statement on how to put COVID behind us in California.” .”

“We will continue to look for opportunities to support public health,” Ghaly said. “We learned a lot through this COVID response, and we need to make sure we don’t lose those gains.”

Demand for molecular COVID-19 tests has plummeted across the state since last January, when the omicron variant brought hospitals to the brink of collapse. At the time, more than 800,000 PCR test results were reported in a single day and more than 15,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 at the peak of the surge. By comparison, fewer than 30,000 test results and 4,600 hospitalizations were reported on the last day of December (the most recent day with complete counts, according to state data).

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Across the state, county health departments are preparing for the closures and absorbing the costs into their own budgets.

In Los Angeles County, OptumServe will stop operating four sites, but the county will contract with another provider to keep the doors open, a county health services spokesperson said by email.

“It is important to underscore that the change will be seamless,” the office of health services communications told CalMatters in an unsigned statement. “Community residents looking for a testing site will not experience any disruption to existing services.”

During a news conference last week, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county is committed to ensuring there are “broad” testing and vaccine options.

In other areas of the state, health departments cannot operate the sites alone. All five OptumServe sites in Fresno County will close on January 31. Only one of the sites is currently operating above 50% capacity, public health spokeswoman Michelle Rivera said. The test-to-treat mobile buses will stop running the first week of February.

Community members will still have options, Rivera said. The county health department continues to work with community organizations, UCSF-Fresno, and the Fresno State School of Nursing to continue to offer testing, treatment, and immunization services throughout the area. The Fresno County Board of Supervisors also approved funding for a rural mobile health program to provide health care to farmworkers and other rural communities.

Fresno County has been hit particularly hard by the latest post-holiday wave of COVID-19, as well as simultaneous surges in influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, issuing emergency orders not to transport EMTs for sixth time since the start of the pandemic to combat the overflow of emergency departments. Do-not-transport orders, also known as assess and refer, require ambulance personnel to determine if a patient requires emergency transportation or is stable enough to be referred to a non-emergency medical facility, such as medical care. primary.

“Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll be dealing with COVID for the long haul.”

Roger Ross, Santa Clara County Emergency Operations Spokesman

In Santa Clara County, state-run sites are also scheduled to close in the coming weeks, emergency operations spokesman Roger Ross said. However, the county will continue to operate three mass vaccination sites and has already begun to integrate the COVID-19 response into normal health department operations.

“Public health recently created a COVID Prevention and Control Program as part of our standard operations. Most of the work now resides here,” Ross said. “Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll be dealing with COVID for the long haul.”

In Orange County, where COVID-19 health orders have sometimes sparked public anger, testing and vaccination strategies will largely shift to the “open market where people will self-control COVID-19.” through primary care and other community resources, the health department announced last month in a news release. County-run vaccine sites, which saw about 200 patients a week, were closed in December, though the health department continues to offer vaccines for vulnerable populations like the homeless, said Obinna Oleribe, deputy director of public health services for the county. orange county.

The federal government requires health insurance plans to cover eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per person per month, including FDA-approved home PCR tests. Each household can also request four free rapid tests from the federal government. When used properly, home tests of all kinds are considered highly accurate, although data shows that PCR tests are more reliable.

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