SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- As the demand for COVID testing spikes along with the omicron variant surge, San Francisco Mayor London Breed has ordered the city's private healthcare providers to step up and increase testing capacity for their patients or face fines.
In August, the city's Department of Public Health issued an order requiring all large healthcare facilities to provide tests within 24 hours when a member patient or staffer reports being symptomatic or in close contact with someone with COVID.
While health officials say the directive is being followed most of the time, Breed said Tuesday during a virtual press conference she has issued a mayoral order requiring all health care providers to submit proof of testing compliance to the health department.
The directive comes as Breed said the city's COVID cases are at record levels, with the seven-day case rate now at 1,386 cases per day, more than four times that of last winter's peak.
"These next few weeks will be very, very hard but we will get through this as we have before," Breed said. "And as we navigate this surge, we know testing is a major issue. This is a problem not just here but all over the country. The truth is, the Department of Public Health has pushed its capacity during this latest surge, doubling our testing from early December to more than 10,000 tests per day. But to meet the current demand and to support our residents, we need more from our private health care partners."
The August health order required healthcare providers to meet the testing goal for their members 90% of the time. The additional order from the mayor would compel providers across the city to specifically affirm twice a week that symptomatic or close contact persons are being tested within 24 hours and with results provided within 48 hours.
"That's why we need all of our private health care providers to step up and do your part and to not just send people to the city resources, but to make sure you're are providing resources that the members and the city are paying you to provide," said Breed.
Failure to comply with the mayor's order could result in fines of up to $10,000 per day.
City officials say since the beginning of the pandemic, the Department of Public has been the largest provider of COVID tests in the city, with testing sites running at 500-900% of capacity since the current omicron surge began.
The announcement came as omicron cases overall continue to soar in the city.
"Today as we continue to see our COVID cases reach record levels." Breed said. "Our seven day case rate is 1386 new cases per day. And while this is very challenging, I can only imagine what we would be saying if we were seeing these case numbers before we had the vaccine because while the number of people in the hospital has gone up, we are still below last winter's peak."
Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the city's Department of Public Health, said the city is seeing an unprecedented number of COVID-19 cases and increased demand for testing. One in five tests administered in the city right now are coming back positive.
Colfax noted that hospitalization numbers have not climbed quite as drastically because of the high vaccination rate in the city and said the "vast majority" of those hospitalized are unvaccinated or have not gotten their booster shot.
"We are in the middle of the worst of this omicron surge," he said, but added that "we have reason to believe, based on data from other parts of the world, that we could be turning a corner soon."
City officials on Tuesday also said they are providing more support to San Francisco Unified School District, which has faced staffing shortages coming out of its winter break due to teachers and other employees being sick.
The city will provide 500,000 surgical masks for students, 150,000 KN95 masks for staff and 1,000 rapid tests for educators to use after they quarantine and before they return to the classroom.
SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews said that by the end of this week, every student and teacher in a district classroom will have a take-home COVID test.
Breed and other city officials said they don't plan any additional restrictions for residents for the time being, and said a main priority is to keep schools open in San Francisco.
More information about testing in the school district can be found at https://www.sfusd.edu/covid-19-response-updates-and-resources/covid-19-surveillance-testing-students/covid-19-testing-locations-and-dates.
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