As coronavirus continues to spread in Kern County, a federal surge testing unit arrived in Bakersfield on Wednesday. In a press conference announcing the opening of the facility, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and others expressed hope that the federal site could help local officials bring COVID-19 under control in Kern County.
Laboratories processing coronavirus tests locally have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tests coming through their doors. The federal site, which is to begin operating out of the Kern County fairgrounds at 2 p.m. Wednesday, promises to return tests within three days, allowing the Kern County Public Health Services Department to respond quicker to those who receive positive results.
“This will help us get closer to mitigating COVID-19 throughout our community,” McCarthy said during the press conference held on Zoom. “As we know, we have a rise in COVID throughout the Central Valley and the only way to get a handle on this is testing.”
McCarthy was joined by Dr. Brett Giroir, a four-star admiral serving as the assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the surge testing site. He said the surge unit has been deployed in other coronavirus hot spots around the country, and has been shown to help bring down disease transmission.
“We bring in healthcare professionals. We bring in the web services. We bring in all the swabs, tubes, media, do the laboratory tests and have web reporting,” he said. “The goal is really to supplement your already excellent public health that you have going on, because when we see a hot spot starting, we know that surging testing can be helpful.”
Starting Thursday, the surge site will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with the capability of testing 5,000 people per day for the next 12 days. The site is drive-thru only, and will accept anyone, although appointments are encouraged.
Those wishing to make an appointment can go to McCarthy’s Facebook page or visit http://doineedacovid19test.com/.
“I am optimistic this is really going to help us get a better control, and to implement some local control,” Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine said during the press conference, “so that we can get a hold of this and get our businesses back open.”
The federal effort replaces a testing site organized by Supervisor Leticia Perez’s office. Perez said during a board meeting on Tuesday a host of people who had scheduled appointments through Project Baseline abruptly found those appointments to be canceled.
“I want to apologize to members of the public who were set to be there (Tuesday) and receive a test and could not do so,” she said. “I feel responsible for that … but I do want the public to know in no way shape or form is that site under my control or influence in any way, as all of our people were let go.”
She added that the new site was a good opportunity to increase testing and she hoped it worked.
The Health and Human Services Department has opened temporary surge testing sites in cities like Miami, New Orleans and Phoenix, all with the intent of rapidly scaling the amount of people who can be quickly tested.
Local news reported in Phoenix that testing totals fell far short of the maximum capacity of 60,000 as the program drew to a close on Monday, with the Arizona Governor’s Office announcing 12,900 of 50,000 tests had been given days before the site would leave the state.
The Phoenix turnout highlights the need for local populations to be informed and take advantage of the surge testing site. On Wednesday, McCarthy urged the community to get the word out and sign up for the tests.
“It doesn’t matter who you are. If you are in the community (and) you need a test, we have an opportunity for you to get through,” he said. “We want to make sure your health is the top priority. And this is a way to get a handle on COVID.”