Orange County officials Tuesday touted a home test kit program for COVID-19 that they say is likely a first in the nation and which they hope will boost their efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.
"We believe that testing is an important part of safe COVID-19 practices," Orange County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Andrew Do said at a news conference to unveil details about the testing program, in which kits will be disseminated to residents so that they can conduct the test at home and get results within a day.
"We want to approve a testing program that is accessible to you," Do said, "and we would like you to work it into your holiday practice."
Residents could test themselves two or three days before going to a holiday event, and then again a couple of days afterward, Do said. Experts recommend the two- or three-day buffer because it can take that long for an infection to be detected.
A home test kit would alert someone to avoid going to a gathering if they test positive, and give them the ability to spread the word to others who attended a gathering if they tested positive after the fact, Do said.
Do said past history has shown that coronavirus cases rise around holidays.
"We know that when we have multiple holidays close to each other, there is an amplification effect,'' Do said.
Officials expect during the holiday season that social gatherings "will compound the challenges that we face,'' which includes the flu season, he said.
"The risk that our health system can be overwhelmed is very high," Do said. "This is a time for us to be really cognizant of what we're doing and be responsible, take steps to protect ourselves and to protect those we love, and also by controlling the spread of COVID-19 we help to protect our economy, as well."
Officials are encouraging virtual get-togethers, but if families want to gather, it is recommended that they limit it to two households and to do so outdoors.
"Lunch time is best when the weather is not so cold,'' Do said. "And minimize the number of events at night because it gets colder and people will be driven indoors and that will increase the risk to everyone."
Do said increasing testing is one of the most effective ways to drive
down coronavirus cases.
"Widespread testing is necessary and, most importantly, it is achievable," Do said. "It is not difficult to do and we really encourage you to take advantage of it."
By next week, the county will roll out 11,000 home test kits to residents in Santa Ana and Anaheim because those are the cities hardest hit by the pandemic. The test kits will be available for pick up at community clinics and via the mail.
"For those of you who don't feel comfortable going to a public place, you can make a request to have a test kit sent to you by mail," Do said.
Do previously told City News Service that the goal eventually would be to make the test kits available at public libraries and city halls and other public places, but the details of that are still being worked out.
The home kits contain saliva PCR tests so they do not require the swab of a nose. The saliva tests have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Orange County Health Care Agency Director Clayton Chau, who is also the chief health officer, said the saliva tests are as accurate as the swab tests.
The kits also contain a FedEx label that would allow for a 24-hour turnaround in results if put in the mail by 1:30 p.m.
The kits will be handed out for no charge. The program is being funded by CARES Act money from the federal government.
By year's end, the county is expected to have 500,000 of the kits available to be handed out to residents throughout the county, Do said.
It's not clear how much the program will cost the county.