Health experts explain it’s still important to follow public health guidelines despite increased testing capabilities
Skilled-nursing facilities in Yolo County are now required to test their staff two times a week—which started Dec. 15, 2020—according to an article from the Davis Enterprise. Prior to the updated order requiring more frequent testing, staff were tested once a week, according to the article.
However, on Dec. 2, 2020, Yolo County Public Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson issued an updated health order targeting Long-Term Care Facilities (LTCFs). The updated order, Order No. 2020-03, replaces Order No. 2020-02 (issued on May 8, 2020), according to a press release from Yolo County.
“Effective December 15, 2020, each Long-Term Care Facility listed in Section 6 below must implement twice-weekly COVID-19 screening testing of all staff working in the Facility,” the order reads. “Staff previously diagnosed with COVID-19 who remain asymptomatic after recovery are exempt from testing for 90 days after the date of symptom onset for the initial COVID-19 infection or date of positive test for staff who never developed symptoms.”
Staff who regularly work within the LTCFs but are not employed by them are also required to be tested twice weekly, either by their employer or by the LTCF.
Dr. Larissa May, a professor of emergency medicine and former interim health officer of Yolo County, explained via email the importance of continuing to abide by public health measures.
“Unfortunately our low tech public health measures are still the most effective at mitigating the virus, including physically distancing from others not in your household, avoiding gatherings, wearing face coverings around others not in your household, and handwashing as well as avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth,” Dr. May said via email.
Additional measures include getting tested when showing symptoms of COVID-19, staying home and isolating for at least ten days until symptoms are improving, quarantining for a minimum of ten days after traveling or receiving visitors. Testing asymptomatic people 5-7 days after they have been exposed or have traveled can also help with identifying asymptomatic cases.
Coupled with following public health measures, this order will help protect vulnerable members of the community, the order explains.
“This Order is issued based on scientific evidence and best practices as currently known and available to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 to the residents at the Long-Term Care Facility and to protect those residents from avoidable risk of serious illness or death resulting from COVID-19,” the order reads. “The age and underlying health conditions of a significant majority of Long-Term Care Facility residents place those residents at high risk of experiencing serious health complications from COVID-19, including death.”
“Routine testing of asymptomatic individuals in the community with highly sensitive tests can help mitigate spread as long as individuals follow the public health recommendations,” Dr. May said via email. “Evidence for large scale testing in areas of high prevalence of individuals at higher risk of transmitting infections such as essential workers and university students is still limited.”
While the capacity to test people has increased since the past summer, it is still focused on those who have been exposed to COVID-19 and people who are symptomatic, according to Dr. May.
Students can continue supporting the local community while staying safe, Public Information Officer at Yolo County Jenny Tan explained, such as by buying locally and supporting restaurants.
“Students can also donate food items or volunteer their time to many nonprofit organizations to give back to the community,” Tan said via email. “We can still support our local businesses and organizations while following the health and safety measures of wearing a face mask and physically distancing.”
Ultimately, while increased testing in LTCFs may help identify cases and protect vulnerable members of the community, it is not a replacement for following health guidelines.
“Bottom line, without following the public health recommendations above, testing alone will not be sufficient to mitigate spread especially if it does not change behavior,” Dr. May said via email. “A negative test may still provide false reassurance particularly when prevalence is high and test sensitivity is low.”
Written by: Shraddha Jhingan — firstname.lastname@example.org