Kaiser Permanente is offering drive-up coronavirus testing for patients that allows them to get swabbed without leaving their vehicles. (Photo by Doug Oakley/Courtesy Kaiser Permanente)

Health officials ramping up testing capacity

Kaiser and UCSF offering drive-up and outpatient testing for patients

The city of San Francisco and local medical facilities are expanding their ability to conduct novel coronavirus tests amid a strong public demand.

Kaiser Permanente is piloting a drive-up testing site and other methods for testing members who meet CDC criteria and have a doctor’s order, while UCSF Medical Center has developed its own test for hospital and outpatient use.

Eligible Kaiser Permanente patients get tested through an appointment at a specially equipped site, where staff in protective gear collect swabs for the novel coronavirus, flu and other respiratory viruses while the patients stay in their vehicle, according to registered nurse Michelle Gaskill-Hames, senior vice president for Health Plan and Hospital Operations. Patients return home, isolate themselves, await test results and monitor their symptoms as they receive further care instructions, she added.

Gaskill-Hames said the company is working with county public health departments and commercial labs to offer novel coronavirus testing.

UCSF Medical Center has developed its own rapid test — the same type offered by the CDC — and got it validated by the FDA, allowing UCSF to begin testing patients in-house on Monday evening, according to Kristen Bole, the university’s director of clinical communications. The medical center has a testing capacity of about 80 patients daily, Bole said.

UCSF is testing hospitalized patients with novel coronavirus symptoms, prioritizing those with additional risk factors as necessary, such as when a family member tests positive, Bole said. UCSF is testing patients in its hospital and emergency department, along with some outpatients referred to its respiratory screening clinic, although the majority of those patients are sent to other labs for testing.

“These criteria are being rapidly updated and expanded as the CDC and our communities respond to the crisis,” Bole said.

And over the last month, medical workers from the Department of Public Health, NORCAL Ambulance and American Medical Response have been dispatched to homes, hospitals and medical facilities to collect novel coronavirus samples and transport patients, said EMT Mariah Kaitz, a member of the staff.

The staff members collect samples on site and transport patients from and to homes, facilities and hospitals.

The testing criteria, determined by the CDC, focus on people exhibiting the three main symptoms — respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath, a cough and a fever, with an emphasis on the latter and on whether the patient has been in close contact with someone who tested positive.

“The fever is pretty much the defining factor, and whether you’ve been in close contact with someone who is positive,” Kaitz said.

“Ideally we should be ramping up our capacity to provide testing on people who are sick within their homes — to send out public health nurses to help with that,” said Sasha Cuttler, a registered nurse who provides telephone support for novel coronavirus queries for the DPH and who serves as a nurse on the staff conducting testing. “Especially for the most vulnerable of our populations, we need on-site testing available,” Cuttler said.

The Department of Public Health has declined to say how many people it is testing, only announcing the number of confirmed positive diagnoses. As of Saturday, The City had confirmed 28 cases.

dhorowitz@sfexaminer.com

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