SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Santa Clara County ordered on Wednesday all large health care systems in the county to provide free coronavirus testing for all patients in high-risk categories, including people who regularly ride mass transit.

County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said that while many health care providers are already providing COVID-19 testing to their patients that need to be tested right away, the order now requires all acute care hospitals, and all clinics and urgent care facilities operated by organizations that run an acute care hospital in the county or elsewhere to provide the testing.

Under the order, larger health care systems will be required to test:

  • All patients with COVID-19 symptoms
  • All patients who have had close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19
  • All patients at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 because they work in front-line settings, regularly ride mass transit, or have recently attended a mass gathering

“Just as we expect all health care providers to test their patients for other communicable diseases and conditions that put their health at risk, health care providers need to test their patients for COVID-19,” said Cody in a prepared statement. “Many health care providers have already stepped up to meet this expectation, and we are grateful for their partnership as we all work to reduce severe illness and death from COVID-19.”

County health officials say although efforts to ramp up testing has been hampered by supply shortages, health care providers still experiencing shortages of testing supplies can now get help from the State of California’s Testing Task Force.

Santa Clara County has been opening pop up testing sites in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county has set a goal of reaching 4000 tests per day but the actual number of tests conducted is far lower, about 2300 per day.

“We just can’t do it alone, so we felt we had to issue this order so that we can do all we can to protect the people of this community,” said Dr. Martin Fenstersheib of the Santa Clara County Health Department.

Good Samaritan Hospital, along with Regional Medical are part of HCA Healthcare.

“Testing is a good thing, but not the panacea,” said Mark Brown, HCA Chief Nursing Officer.

Together HCA is doing about 100 tests a day in the county. But they say increasing that number won’t have an impact, unless the county steps up contact tracing.

The order follows action by the State of California and the federal government to require health insurance companies to cover COVID-19 testing for their members.

“Without the participation of all health care providers in ensuring access to testing for those who need it most, we will not be able to protect the public from communicable diseases like COVID-19,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the Santa Clara County COVID-19 Testing Officer in a statement. “As we continue to reopen activity in the community, ensuring everyone has access to testing will be critical to keep the community safe.”

The county said there are more than 46 sites where residents can receive free COVID-19 tests and that over the last week, there have been an average of 2,354 tests administered per day – although far more testing is needed.

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