Dr. Josh Ennis, the county’s deputy public health officer, took questions on local problems with COVID testing, the pull of the Fourth of July holiday, and patterns of virus spread from local media representatives today. 

The video of this Q&A session is above. Below: The questions asked of Dr. Ennis, and a summary of his answers.


1. We’ve heard reports of Covid tests at Redwood Acres having a turnaround time of over a week, and a number of people have waited that long only to be told they need to be retested. Some even claim they were told that their tests may have been lost. Can you talk about why/how this is happening for residents? And is it possible that we don’t have an accurate count of positive/negative cases in the county?

The county has also received complaints about test results getting lost, Dr. Ennis says, but in each of those cases the results showed up after a day or two. OptumServe has been unable to give a good answer as to why this has been occurring, but the demand for testing has skyrocketed across the state recently, and it could be that the lab is swamped. Or undergoing growing pains. We are trying to improve this.

For every case we confirm here in the county, there are likely several more cases out there. That would be in line with what’s happening around the country

2. More on testing, specifically making or setting up an appointment. What is the average wait time from booking the test to the actual day you go in? Are you seeing an increase in people scheduling a test lately? or has the demand for testing remained relatively the same over the pandemic?

Dr. Ennis says that he’s hearing that it’s taking some people a week to a week and a half to get into the OptumServe site. If that’s the case – and if people are having to wait for an extended period to get results – that means this isn’t going to a very useful tool to monitor the spread of disease.

Part of this is that demand for testing has increased rapidly across the state recently. Part of it, too, is that there have been staffing problems at the OptumServe site. The county’s working with OptumServe to fix this, and that should help with the staffing problems. “I expect this to be a more temporary thing that we work to fix,” Dr. Ennis says, “but it still doesn’t get around the fact that we’re seeing cases increase across the country, across the state, and that demand for testing is going up.”

3. Are local State Parks implementing safety measures to reduce the density of visitors over the Fourth of July weekend?

The county doesn’t review state parks’ plans, as the county doesn’t have jurisdiction over them. But Dr. Ennis fully expects that they’re following the same state guidelines that are guiding the county’s actions.

4. Everyone has the responsibility to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including in the outdoors, but a lot of people are talking about traveling and going to the lake, taking road trips etc. Should people avoid road trips and stay close to home this holiday weekend?

There is a continuum – what we know is safer, and what we know is riskier. There’s staying at home and not going anywhere, or there is – for example – going to a big concert, where thousands of people are screaming and shouting.

We know that people really want to get together during the holiday, Dr. Ennis says. But this is a very crucial period, with disease growing across the state.

The very safest thing to do is to stay at home and celebrate with their own family. But people are going to go do things. If they do, they know the steps they can take to reduce risk – rigorous hand-washing, maintaining social distance, wearing a face covering.

5. What patterns have you noticed about the virus’ spread locally in cases to date? Are there places — like home or work, for example — where people are most likely to contract it?

“Our experience locally is very much in line with what people are saying across the world,” Dr. Ennis says. “This disease travels in clusters.” The vast majority of cases are from household contact – people who share an indoor space with others for prolonged periods of time.

We’ve had a few examples of people who’ve worked in an essential job, and who we believe have contracted the virus through community transmission. But that’s much more rare.