Wednesday, January 19, 2022
The Pima County Board of Supervisors passed a plan to increase COVID testing availability during their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
The Board unanimously voted to increase PCR testing in Pima County with an additional 1,000 tests per day through Paradigm Laboratories.
“I am concerned with our PCR testing site at the airport,” Supervisor Sharon Bronson said. “We are seeing that we’ve got some issues at TAA (Tucson Airport Authority) with staff coming down with COVID and we’ve got people in line who have COVID. So I would think as part of the implementation of the new testing we need to find other sites than the airport.”
Cases continue to rise in Pima County due to the Omicron variant. The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 3,136 new cases in Pima County on Jan. 11. This is the highest number of cases reported in one day since the pandemic began.
Supervisor Adelita Grijalva said she had noticed that testing appointments through the county website were being scheduled two days out. She raised concerns this would make it more difficult for children to get back into school under the new test-to-stay policy.
Bronson added that constituents reported testing sites had a two-hour waiting period, even with appointments.
Low testing availability has also impacted the local healthcare system.
“People, because they can't find a testing site, are going to ERs to ask to get COVID tested and that is incredibly disruptive for the healthcare system,” Supervisor Matt Heinz said.
The additional PCR tests will be offered at the Kino Event Center across the street from the Abrams Public Heath Building, where the county had set up a testing site in 2020. That site later transitioned to a vaccination center.
PCR (or polymerase chain reaction) tests amplify trace amounts of virus DNA to provide an accurate result. Getting PCR test results through the country is expected to take between 24 to 48 hours. A Jan. 18 memo from Pima County Chief Medical Officer and Deputy County Administrator Dr. Francisco Garcia said the start date for this location should be decided by today. Testing at this location will be available for 30 days.
To provide more access to rapid testing, the Board voted unanimously to approve a master agreement with Stratus Point Global to supply more than 45,500 COVID-19 BinaxNOW Antigen Self-Test Kits to Pima County this year.
“The kind of testing that is widely available is typically 24 to 48 hours so it doesn’t get children back in school and doesn't get people back into the workplace,” said Garcia.
The County also received federal support for a new drive-through PCR testing site at Pima Community College West Campus. The site will be fully operational by Monday, Jan. 24 and test results are expected to take about 48 hours. It will be open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Lastly, a contract funded by the CDC with Partners in Health was passed by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Steve Christy opposed. Partners in Health is a nonprofit healthcare organization that will help the County collect quantifiable data on K-12 schools as they reopen with new COVID mitigation strategies, such as mental health services for children that tested positive for COVID.
“This contractor over the next three years will be providing these services to include helping us with some of the data gathering, analysis, as well as some of the new strategic initiatives in this space,” said Garcia.