SF begins testing locally for coronavirus, expands outreach

San Francisco has expanded its emergency staff and begun testing locally for novel coronavirus, but must do so in the midst of a shortage of testing kits, city officials said Monday.

“It’s not a matter of if — it’s a matter of when,” Breed said about the possibility of the virus spreading to San Francisco at a Monday press conference.

The local tests have shortened the turnaround for results to one to two days, according to Department of Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax. Obtaining results previously took three to seven days due to the time required to ship samples between San Francisco and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, officials said.

No one has tested positive for the virus in San Francisco, but because of the increase in local testing DPH is “likely to diagnose a case very soon,” Colfax said.

However, San Francisco so far has only 250 testing kits, not enough for DPH to offer on-demand testing, according to him and the Mayor’s Office.

Additionally, testing is a two step-process, meaning those kits would serve just 125 people, Colfax said. The health department is optimistic it will receive more kits later in the week, he added.

To make the most of the kits, the health department is requiring doctors with patients suspected of having novel coronavirus to consult with the Department of Public Health, which will touch base with the CDC to determine whether those patients should be tested.

San Francisco is also deploying 50 disaster service workers to fill roles in planning, analysis, operations and community outreach. That’s in addition to the two-dozen-plus workers deployed since Breed’s emergency declaration on Feb. 25, city officials said.

Officials announced that city departments and groups are conducting community outreach as well, with a focus on vulnerable populations including seniors and people with multiple chronic mental health and medical conditions, particularly the unhoused. Agencies involved include the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and emergency teams from the Fire Department and Police Department.

City staff have held more than 30 outreach events citywide since late January, when The City activated its Emergency Operations Center, according to Department of Emergency Management Executive Director Mary Ellen Carroll.

“Our actions are all about preparedness and emergency operations,” Carroll said. “The global, national and regional picture is changing rapidly, and so we are taking steps to protect San Francisco from harm.”

The City is also reaching out to those in the San Francisco Health Network — especially those with chronic diseases or complex behavioral or medical health needs — to help them meet their medical needs over the next 90 days and avoid the medical system.

“(The City) is going to provide leadership in any prevention measures that we can do,” Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee said. “But this is not just a city government issue. It’s a whole community issue — not only what we can do in city government, but also the community themselves in terms of prevention, understanding what they can do to prepare for things, and taking caution about their own environment.”

Grant said that people should wash their hands, cover their coughs and sneezes, avoid going to work if sick and ensure they get the flu shot to prevent symptoms similar to those of novel coronavirus.

“These actions will help slow the spread of the disease and protect yourself and others from harm,” Colfax said.

With the virus’s high transmission rate and low mortality rate, the risk it poses to the public in California remains low, according to the California Department of Public Health. An estimated 80% of those who test positive don’t show symptoms requiring hospitalization, according to CDPH.

As of Monday, novel coronavirus has been detected in 40 positive cases in California, according to CDPH. Twenty-four are from repatriation flights; among the others, nine are travel-related, two came from person-to-person exposure to family, two came from per-to-person exposure within a healthcare facility and three came from unknown sources, according to CDPH.

Nationally, the CDC has detected 43 cases across 10 states, with 17 hospitalized and 2 deaths. Internationally, novel coronavirus has been detected in 68 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

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