7 Bay Area jurisdictions call for revamped reporting requirements for COVID-19 testing

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In an attempt to combat the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus, seven jurisdictions within the Bay Area, including the city of Berkeley, announced an order with revamped reporting requirements for laboratories that test for COVID-19.

Public health officers in six Bay Area counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara — and the city of Berkeley announced the order. According to a press release from the city of Berkeley, laboratories must report the results of COVID-19 tests for each resident to the health care provider ordering the test, along with state and local health officials.

Laboratories, however, are currently only reporting positive test results. According to the release, this poses challenges for public health officials, who do not know the total number of residents being tested. Under the proposed order, laboratories will have to report all results, regardless of the outcome, including inconclusive results. This, according to the release, would better enable health officials to understand rates of infection in addition to the location of possible clusters of infection.

The scope of COVID-19 testing has widened as a result of the start of testing within commercial and academic laboratories. By comparison, the public health laboratory network only offers limited testing for emerging infections, including COVID-19, according to the press release.

The limitations of public health laboratories, coupled with the lack of sufficient reporting requirements, lead to statistics that only represent a small percentage of the total number of people infected, according to the press release.

“This order will ensure public health officials regionally and across the state have access to the information we need to understand, predict, and combat the spread of COVID-19,” said city of Berkeley health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez in the press release. “Commercial and academic laboratories are important partners in providing testing to our community. Receiving this critical information from those labs will help local health departments respond to COVID-19 during this unprecedented time.”

This order follows newly released data that show increased rates of local transmission. Within the seven jurisdictions, 930 cases have been confirmed, 19 of which resulted in deaths. The 930 total cases account for more than half of California’s case count as a whole, according to the release.

Additionally, these numbers do not consider the increasing rates of assumed cases through community transmission.

“Expanding reporting beyond positive results to include timely reporting of negative and inconclusive results allows local health officials to better understand whether there are areas of the community that are experiencing more intense transmission and project future trends in in the spread of the virus,” said San Francisco health officer Dr. Tomás Aragón in the press release. “By sharing high quality test result data at scale, state and local health authorities can better track COVID-19, predict its spread, and better focus public resources to end this global pandemic.”

Mallika Seshadri is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.