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COVID-19 testing hit and miss around San Diego county

County sites and private hospitals use different labs and screening protocols.

SAN DIEGO — Delays in getting test results and a lack of available testing for COVID-19 continue to aggravate people around San Diego county.

Testing is limited and restrictions on screening patients actually seem to be getting tighter, despite promises that testing would ramp up nationwide.

“I was surprised that I got the test. When I found out I could go, I was elated,” said one Carmel Valley engineer, who spoke to News 8 on the condition of anonymity.

The engineer received a COVID-19 test on Wednesday after one of his co-workers came down with symptoms. It wasn’t long before he, too, became ill.

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“I definitely had some serious chest coughing. I had nasal drip and as time went on, I had a mild fever and night sweats. Then, I started to sneeze. The cough now is horse. It's dry and I do feel a little pressure in the chest,” the engineer said.

He called the Scripps Health nurse telephone line and was approved for a nose swab at the Torrey Pines clinic. It’s the only drive-thru testing site Scripps currently is operating after closing down two other test locations.

Five days into self-quarantine, the engineer still had not received his test results. He said a nurse told him it could take 8 to 10 days.

“Eight to 10 business days. I don't have any more vacation to use, so it's a real problem,” he said.

Scripps Health said they use Quest Diagnostics to perform their lab testing, and the wait time for COVID-19 results typically take six to seven days. They encourage patients to call the nurse line at 888-261-8431.

As it stands now, San Diego County offers COVID-19 testing through a patchwork of private and public providers. And, they seem to have different screening policies.

On Monday at SDCCU Stadium, a slow trickle of drivers were tested at the county's drive-thru testing site.

You have to get a referral before showing up at the stadium. They're only testing healthcare workers, first responders, people with underlying conditions, and older people living in group homes, in accordance with guidelines associated with the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

Other local testing sites screen using CDC testing guidelines.

Some states like Rhode Island, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, and Ohio are offering more widespread testing, some with screening on-site and with no appointment required.

The problem in San Diego seems to be a shortage of testing kits.

“There is a limited supply of testing capability at this time. Our instructions to everyone for individuals with mild to moderate symptoms is to stay at home. You do not need to be tested,” said San Diego County Public Health Officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten.

Local hospitals also are offering testing. We found one person being tested at Kaiser Permanente San Diego hospital in Kearny Mesa on Monday. Kaiser operates testing sites at two locations, its Kearny Mesa site and its Zion Medical Center.

At Sharp hospital in Birdland, nurses test people in a tent so patients don't have to enter the hospital. Testing is by referral only. Sharp operates 10 testing sites throughout the county.

UC San Diego Health emailed News 8 the following statement:

”UC San Diego Health patients with fever or respiratory symptoms can call our dedicated COVID-19 nurse line – 800-926-8273 – between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. any day of the week. They may be directed to a video visit, drive-up location, or one of our clinics. We have testing capabilities in Hillcrest, La Jolla, Encinitas and Rancho Bernardo.”

The Carmel Valley engineer said the longer he has to wait for his test results, the more he puts his family at risk.

“I'm pretty much putting my family in jeopardy because I'm the sole breadwinner,” he said.

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