Free COVID-19 testing comes to Ridgecrest

Health care officials point to data from wide-scale testing as critical to informing safe path to reopening

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Free COVID-19 testing comes to RidgecrestFree drive-through testing for COVID-19 begins Friday, thanks to a partnership between Ridgecrest Regional Hospital and Kern County.

“The ability to expand testing for Ridgecrst and our surrounding residents is what we have been pushing for,” said Jim Suver, president-CEO of RRH.

As Californians groan under the fiscal hardship of a landmark recession, stewards of public health point to testing as a critical component to monitoring the impacts to public health once the restrictions on closures, travel and distancing begin to relax.

“Now, with the county’s support, we have the opportunity to give people the information they need about their health, which will ultimately help in our continue efforts to ‘flatten the cure,’” said Suver.

Further details about making an appointment will be released by the hospital. Watch rrh.org and Ridgecrest Regional Hospital on Facebook for updates.

During city and county meetings to gather public input, the overwhelming majority of those responding favored an aggressive approach to reopening businesses that have experienced revenue loss, unemployments and other hardships.

However, those tasked with maintaining public health have pointed to the importance of a slow, thoughtful approach. Although the valley has seen only a handful of positive cases, with no deaths or hospitalizations, Kern County Public Health Director Matt Constantine noted that an outbreak in a single Bakersfield-based nursing home accounted for 60 percent of COVID-19 related deaths countywide.

As of Monday, 46 health-care workers and 62 residents of Kingston Health Care Center tested positively for coronavirus. Nine residents perished from the illness.

While Ridgecrest may feel safe for now, “We are not immune to outbreaks,” said Dr. Susan Reynolds, chief medical officer of Ridgecrest Regional Hospital.

Bella Sera, the hospital’s skilled nursing facility, is one example of a high-risk area that could be quickly overwhelmed if exposed to the virus.

“I understand that the longer our businesses are closed, and people are out of work, the more difficult this becomes for our community. But the virus is just too dangerous for us to move too quickly.

“The good news is that we are spread out here. Ridgecrest is also very lucky in that we are 100 miles away from any metropolitan area.”

Up to now, RRH has been able to test less than 1 percent of the population. “Testing has only been available via physician referral and by meeting set CDC criteria,” said Brenda Diel of RRH. “For the first time since the pandemic began, we can now offer our local residents the ability to be tested regardless of criteria and regardless of insurance and that is going to by a huge factor in our accuracy and understanding of the spread of the virus in our community.”

“This will be a giant leap forward in our efforts to combat the virus, and will be key to safely reopening our economy,” said Suver.

He also noted said that the hospital maintains adequate staff, bed capacity and supply inventory to face the surge levels mandated by the state.

However, too steep a spike could overrun our local infrastructure. And our remote location will present challenges in mobilizing displaced patients to other facilities or bringing relief staff into the valley.

“We still need to avoid large crowd of people, and continue to enforce social distancing,” said Reynolds.

She agreed that Ridgecrest has somewhat different demographics and needs than California’s metropolitan regions. So in addition to tracking state directives, she has been monitoring how other rural communities, including those in Montana and New Mexico, to see how the numbers hold up as those states begin to return to pre-COVID-19 operations.

“Let’s continue to watch and see where the spikes are.” Testing makes all that possible.

Story First Published: 2020-05-13