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Newsom Sends In National Guard Personnel To Increase Bay Area COVID Testing Capacity

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) -- With waiting times and frustrations growing, Gov. Gavin Newson activated National Guard troops Friday to bolster personnel manning several overwhelmed COVID-19 testing sites in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The announcement comes as the spread of the omicron variant continues to surge, now accounting for at least 80% of all COVID-19 cases in California.

"California has led the country's fight against COVID-19, implementing first-in-the-nation public health measures that have helped save tens of thousands of lives," Newsom said in a release. "We continue to support communities in their response to COVID by bolstering testing capacity."

Under Newsom's order National Guard plans to deploy over 200 Cal Guard members across 50 Optum Serve sites around the state, providing interim clinical staff while permanent staff are hired, adding capacity for walk-ins and assisting with crowd control.

Among those sites was one in Antioch, where National Guard personnel were deployed prior to the announcement. Additional sites in Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties will also receive assistance beginning Saturday and through the coming days.

As the number of new cases has soared, frustrations have grown among those awaiting to be tested. Among those was Becca Ackerman, a parent who stood with her children in a long line at a testing site in San Mateo.

"It wasn't this crazy the last time we were here, honestly. We made an appointment and came by this morning and saw the line to the end of the freeway and we left," Ackerman told KPIX. "I think, with omicron, people are scared and rightly so. It's important to get tested, it's important to keep the community safe."

Negative test results can be a necessity for any number of activities, from going to work to boarding an airplane or attending a sporting event. Delays in getting results — or inability to find a test kit — can mean people with very mild or no symptoms may presume they are not infected and go about their usual routines.

"If you are tested and you're positive then you know you need to isolate," said Abraar Karan, an infectious diseases doctor at Stanford University. "If you can't get tested, and you don't have the luxury to just quarantine without knowing, sure, you may have people going out and infecting others."

The surge of cases in California has led to a soaring demand for tests that in many places simply can't be found. Some county mail-in testing programs have been halted due to exploding demand. In places where tests are available, people sometimes have to wait in line for several hours.

There's also been a lag in obtaining test results. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiology professor at University of California, San Francisco's medical school, said she heard one lab was taking nine days to return results — longer than someone exposed to COVID-19 may have to quarantine.

"If you are trying to do the right thing, and you decided to wait in line to get a test, having a long time to get actionable information is not helpful," she said. "It's sort of absurd."

Some people have resorted to paying $100 or more for a rapid result — something many can't afford.

Since Christmas, more than 5,000 people in California have been admitted to hospitals with COVID. In many cases, they went in for something else and only learned they were infected upon testing.

State models used to forecast the impact of the virus show that within a month California could have a record 23,000 people in hospitals with COVID-19.

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