In an attempt to track and identify rapidly spreading cases of COVID-19, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties plan to distribute tens of thousands of free COVID-19 home test kits as soon as this week, according to county departments of public health.
The announcements come as the more-contagious omicron variant has become dominant throughout the United States and the numbers of sick people are growing, forcing some states to issue new mask mandates and emergency orders.
Santa Clara County anticipates receiving 90,000 at-home COVID-19 test kits from the state this week, and more have been ordered. The free tests will be distributed through partner agencies serving the most impacted communities and by county outreach teams that will go door-to-door in areas with the highest case rates, such as in East San Jose and Gilroy.
"The county is prepared to begin distribution as soon as the tests are received, which is expected to be this week," Santa Clara County officials stated in an email.
In addition to home testing, Santa Clara County increased testing for the holiday season and is providing more appointments in response to increased demand. The largest county location, the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds parking lot, increased testing from 1,500 to 1,800 tests per day to a capacity of 3,500 per day starting Dec. 20. The location will soon have a capacity of 5,000 tests per day, according to the county.
"Testing is an important part in defending our community against COVID-19, and everyone is encouraged to be tested if they are exposed to an individual or they have symptoms," county staff stated.
Testing site and appointment information can be found at covid19.sccgov.org/covid-19-testing
San Mateo County Health is working with the state of California and the County Office of Education to provide rapid antigen test kits to families before school will reopen after the holiday break or soon after children return to school, department staff stated in an email.
So far, the county has received 48,000 test kits. Plans are being made for their free distribution to families through the districts and schools.
San Mateo County also sponsors testing at 13 locations, in addition to the many other options for testing by health care providers, pharmacies and other operators. County-sponsored testing sites are open to the public and don't have a role in processing the test kits distributed to schools, according to the department.
"Current demand is at approximately 45% of capacity of county-operated sites, and we are working to ensure that we have sufficient capacity to meet demand at individual locations, not just countywide," department staff said.
Last week, the county averaged 690 tests per day and is seeing an approximately 30% increase in average weekly usage compared to the month of November.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Dec. 22 that the California Department of Public Health will expand those efforts by providing one to two rapid tests for every student. CDPH will work with local education and health partners to distribute those test kits as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The federal government plans to issue 500 million at-home test kits, President Joe Biden announced on Dec. 21, but it could take weeks before they become available. The public will order the test kits through a new, planned website.