County testing sites now allow self-swabbing



If you're planning to get tested for COVID-19 at one of San Luis Obispo County's community testing sites in the near future, be prepared to swab your own nose.

SELF-SWAB COVID-19 community testing sites in SLO County are now allowing patients to administer their own tests, a process that health officials say is more tolerable. - FILE PHOTO
  • SELF-SWAB COVID-19 community testing sites in SLO County are now allowing patients to administer their own tests, a process that health officials say is more tolerable.

The county's state-funded testing sites, which are operated by federal health services provider OptumServe, are converting to a supervised self-swabbing testing model. So instead of having a clinician dig around in your nose with a glorified Q-tip, you'll have the option to do it yourself—with an employee's instruction and supervision, of course.

Michelle Shoresman, a spokesperson for the SLO County Public Health Department, said the transition started at all OptumServe testing sites earlier this week, a decision that she said was made by the contractor and not the county.

"Our understanding was that this change was made to give more flexibility with staffing," Shoresman wrote in an email to New Times. "As this is a new process, it will probably take a little time for the staff and clients to become comfortable with the new process. However, I suspect it will become more efficient over time."

Shoresman assured New Times that self-swabbed tests are just as accurate as those administered by an on-site employee. Part of the COVID-19 testing process involves checking for human DNA to ensure a sufficient sample was collected. If a person doesn't collect enough DNA while self-swabbing, Shoresman said the test results will be labeled as "insufficient" rather than "negative."

Patients who don't feel comfortable administering the tests themselves will still have the option to have on-site staff swab for them.

A March 2020 study led by Optum and UnitedHealth Group Research and Development found self-collected tests to be just as effective as those administered by clinicians. The study, which included nearly 500 patients tested at Optum sites in Washington, found that the self-administered swab tests accurately detected COVID-19 in 90 percent of positive patients, consistent with the accuracy of clinician-administered tests.

"The current COVID-19 test regimen requires a trained health care worker to collect samples from deep inside the patient's nasal cavity," an Optum press release detailing the study reads. "The patient-administered testing method is significantly less invasive, allowing patients to swab the front part of the nostril and mid-nose."

Cal Poly uses the self-collection testing method for both its ongoing surveillance and symptomatic COVID-19 testing, and has been doing so for "quite a while," according to Media Relations Director Matt Lazier. Lazier said the university uses self-collected saliva samples for its ongoing surveillance testing of students and employees. In cases where students are actually experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, Lazier said Cal Poly's Campus Health and Wellbeing center uses self-swab nasal tests.

He said most students and employees appear to be more comfortable administering the tests themselves.

"Campus Health and Wellbeing reports that the self swabs empower patients in their own care, are generally more pleasant than the deeper nasopharyngeal swabs, and generally seem to be received and tolerated better by patients," Lazier said. Δ


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