New Mandate Requires Private Labs to Report Comprehensive Test Data in 7 Bay Area Counties

When Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department released information Monday night on how many COVID-19 tests it conducted, the data was incomplete. The 647 nasal and throat swabs done in a county of nearly 2 million people didn’t account for tests handled by private labs like Verily, Quest or Stanford.

But this morning, in response to prodding from this news organization, the counties of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo and the city of Berkeley announced an order that requires private companies to disclose comprehensive testing data—not just the positive results.

“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,” Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said in a news release about the mandate. “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.”

As of today, the seven Bay Area counties reported a combined 930 cases of COVID-19—more than half the state’s entire tally. In Santa Clara County alone, the number of cases has reached 321. But those numbers don’t account for the many asymptomatic people, those who were unable to get a test or individuals tested by private labs.

In a phone call earlier this week, Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith told San Jose Inside that he expects the actual number of infected people in Silicon Valley is closer to 4,000 to 5,000. Today, he said that figure could be as high as 7,000 to 10,000.

County public health labs currently can only use testing kits supplied by the CDC, leaving them with only 500 tests per jurisdiction. But a private lab create its own tests, giving them the ability to scale at a much higher rate. Complete data from those companies will give public health officers a more comprehensive look at just how fast the highly-contagious virus is spreading.

“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 Dr. Tomás Aragón, the health officer of the city and county of San Francisco. “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.”

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

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