Expanded testing confirms low numbers

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Expanded  testing  confirms  low  numbersNearly three weeks into the free drive-through testing offered by Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, officials are reporting that the number of positive results for COVID-19 in the community is still relatively low.

“We still have not done enough testing to determine anything conclusive, but I am delighted by what we are seeing so far,” said Jim Suver, chief executive officer of RRH.

“I believe these results confirm what we are already doing in our community to transition out of the shelter-in-place orders. Opening up our businesses was the right thing to do. And we should continue, as long as we move forward gradually and carefully.”

Earlier this month, RRH could only offer testing to patients who met rigid guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and the offices of California Gov. Gavin Newsom. At that time the hospital had only tested some 225 residents, resulting in three positive local cases.

Thanks to a partnership with Kern County Health Department, and funding from the federal CARES Act, RRH was able to institute the free tests with no criteria for screening. At press time the combined testing total was more than 700, with only seven positive results.

“To be honest, we were a little surprised that the numbers stayed low,” said Suver. Many other communities were reporting significant numbers of asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus, “but that may not be the case here.”

The nasal swab tests provide an important part of the data set, said Suver, but RRH is still waiting for serial antibody testing. Although the results for that test have not yet been fully refined, it could provide critical insight into the bigger picture.

“The drive-through test can only tell if you are positive — not whether you have had it before. We know that the antibody test results are still imperfect, but it will be good to have some idea of who possesses immunity for the disease,” said Suver.

He also noted that the hospital will need to remain vigilant as social-distancing restrictions continue to relax across our state and community.

“My concern, of course, is that in many instances it takes only one infected person with many contacts to spark an outbreak,” said Suver.

“We believe we have sufficient capacity at the hospital to treat the disease, but we also know that contraction can lead to death or permanent health issues. The risk of exposure is not something we take lightly.”

Given the deadly outbreaks in nursing homes in other Kern communities, Suver took the initiative to test all of the residents and staff at Bella Sera. No positive results have been reported so far.

“There are other things we need to keep an eye on, as well,” he said. “Once travel resumes, we expect to see an increase in the volume of coronavirus cases.”

At press time, China Lake acknowledged that although state and federal guidelines for travel have been relaxed, Navy officials are taking additional precautions before returning to normal operations. Suver said that he has been in touch with base officials to help determine how to support them.

“I also want to remind people who are sick, or who have chronic conditions, that it is important for them to check in with their doctors,” he said.

“The hospital is open for business and here to keep you safe.”

Drive-through testing is available weekdays from 8-10:30 a.m. Results are typically available within 2-3 days. To book an appointment text the word “TESTING” TO (833) RRH-4YOU (774-4968) or call (866) 774-9984.

Pictured: RRH staff now offers free, drive-through testing for COVID-19. — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2020-06-05