COVID-19 Testing - Learn More

Testing Capacity and Expansion

Testing is expanding throughout the County as healthcare providers increase the number of patients from whom they collect samples to test, and labs increase the number of samples they can test each day.

The State of California and the County of Santa Clara are providing substantial support to healthcare providers and laboratories to increase both testing capacity and the number if people being tested. The State of California’s Testing Taskforce is taking the lead statewide in expanding access to testing supplies and increasing capacity, addressing the many barriers that have slowed testing expansion in counties across the state and nationally. The State Testing Taskforce is working directly with private labs and many private healthcare providers, which operate most of the testing locations and infrastructure both locally and nationally, to expand capacity as rapidly as possible. The State is also vetting new testing technologies and making recommendations on which are appropriate for use.

The County of Santa Clara directly provides COVID-19 testing through both our Public Health Department and through Valley Medical Center’s (VMC’s) hospitals and clinics. Testing is currently being conducted at all three of the County’s hospitals as well as through several drive-through testing locations throughout the County. VMC has substantially expanded its COVID-19 testing capacity in recent weeks and is working to expand even further. The Public Health Laboratory also has plans to significantly increase the number of COVID-19 samples it can process by mid-May, which will increase our capacity to test persons in particularly high-risk settings like nursing homes.

In addition, the County’s Public Health Department has been regularly updating guidance to healthcare providers on who should be tested, making sure they are aware the they should be increasing the number of persons they test as testing capacity has increased. With the recent expansion of testing capacity, Public Health recently provided updated guidance to all healthcare providers in the community recommending testing for all individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, and many others who work in higher risk settings or who are at higher risk of infection or severe illness.

The County is also providing significant testing support for skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), shelters, and other congregate care settings through both the Public Health Department and the County Health and Hospital System. For example, the County’s Valley Homeless Healthcare Program is providing testing for symptomatic unsheltered residents or those with exposure history, as well as more expansive testing in certain high-risk areas and shelters. In the County’s jails, we are testing all symptomatic individuals, those with any exposure history, and other individuals at risk.

The County is also playing a critical coordination role to help rapidly expand testing capacity. The County helped facilitate one of the first community-based pilot testing sites with Verily at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. We also worked with Verily and the City of San Jose to expand these free testing services to a new site in East San Jose at the San Jose PAL Stadium. Similarly, we are working with the State and their contractor, OptumServe, to launch two new community-based testing services in underserved communities in East San Jose (James Lick High School) and in Gilroy (Christopher High School). The County is also partnering with local community health centers to expand access to COVID-19 testing.

Types of Tests

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Viral Detection Test

Viral detection tests, which is the test performed by most healthcare providers, are tests that tell you if you currently have COVID-19. This diagnostic test finds genetic material from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The test is known by several different names including polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, molecular test, or nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). The time it takes to get test results varies by laboratory and the number of tests the laboratory needs to run. The average time to get a result is 2 days, but this may vary.

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Serology or Antibody Test

A serology, serological, or antibody test detects the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in your body. Antibodies are produced by your immune system as a response against the virus. Serology or antibody tests are different from molecular/PCR tests and cannot diagnose COVID-19. Only molecular/PCR tests can accurately diagnose someone for COVID-19. Serology tests or antibody tests attempt to tell you whether you have been exposed to COVID-19 by measuring if your body has developed an antibody response to COVID-19 using a blood sample. There are two types of antibody tests, and each test uses a different type of blood sample.

A rapid serology or antibody test uses a small finger-stick blood sample. At this time, many of the rapid tests have not been fully validated and the results – whether positive or negative – are inconclusive.

A laboratory serology or antibody test uses a larger blood draw sample, usually taken from the arm. This is a more reliable test to measure if COVID-19 antibodies are present, but there is still much that remains unknown about interpreting the results.

While many researchers across the country have been working on antibody testing to determine whether someone has contracted COVID-19, we are not near the point of being able to interpret what these tests mean. Currently, antibody tests are most useful for research purposes rather than for information for individual patients.

  • A positive rapid serology test means that you may have been exposed to any coronavirus, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It does not mean that you’re protected from future COVID-19 infections and does not necessarily mean that you had prior exposure to COVID-19. You should continue to take precautions recommended for the general public, including frequent hand washing, social distancing, avoidance of touching the face, and staying away from others when sick. It’s important for you to follow-up with your doctor who may order a more reliable test.
  • Other coronaviruses may cause the test to come back positive. It is unknown if these tests are detecting antibodies only to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, or if they are also detecting antibodies to other common coronaviruses. Remember that coronaviruses are a family of viruses, some of which cause the common cold.
  • You might not be protected from COVID-19 even if you have antibodies. It is not yet clear whether the presence of antibodies prevents reinfection.
  • A negative serology test means that you have not developed an immune response to COVID-19. However, it does not necessarily mean that you don’t have a COVID-19 infection. It can take 1-2 weeks after onset of symptoms for an immune response to develop. If you are not feeling well, please follow-up with your doctor who may perform further evaluation.

Check this website and the CDC’s website often for the latest updates and guidance on testing in general for COVID-19.

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