SF issues new COVID-19 testing guidelines for health care providers

Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

City also working with School District to provide more masks for staff and students,
as well as testing supplies to help educators return to the classroom

SAN FRANCISCO — Mayor London Breed and Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax on Tuesday, January 11 announced new COVID-19 testing guidelines for large healthcare providers like hospitals and hospital-affiliated systems to meet current demands and help minimize the impact of the Omicron-fueled surge. The new guidelines build on the city’s testing order issued August 19, 2021, which is being revised by the Health Officer, requiring all large health care facilities to provide access to COVID-19 testing for people with symptoms and people who have been a close contact within 24 hours of a request from a member patient.

San Francisco officials also announced more support for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), including providing more masks for students and educators, and adding to the District supply of rapid antigen tests to support educators who are in quarantine being able to test back into the classroom. These efforts are on top of SFUSD’s work to expand testing support for both students and staff.

Under the new Mayoral Order, which was issued on Wednesday, January 12, the largest health systems — meaning those that own or operate a hospital — will now be required to produce documentation twice a week to the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) with proof of meeting patient testing needs in a timely manner. Failure to comply with the Mayoral Order may result in fines imposed by the City and County of San Francisco of up to $10,000 per day.

An average of 1,386 San Franciscans a day are testing positive for COVID-19 at testing sites, which is more than four times that of last winter’s peak at 373 cases per day. With more than 10,000 individuals tested daily in San Francisco, the Tuesday Order will help to slow transmission and keep schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, and other essential services operating. Since the beginning of the pandemic, SFDPH has been the largest provider of COIVD-19 tests in the city. SFDPH testing sites have been running at 500-900% of capacity since the current surge began.

“San Francisco has prioritized providing equitable access to testing for all of our residents, but with the Omicron variant rapidly spreading and challenges due to increased demand, we need more support from our health care partners,” said Mayor Breed. “As we learn to live with COVID-19, expanding our testing capacity is going to be critical to keeping our classrooms open, essential services running effectively, and small businesses open. I also want to thank all the city staff working hard with our School District to provide more support as they do the important work to keep educating our children.”

While 81% of San Franciscans are vaccinated, and 58% of vaccinated residents have been boosted, the highly contagious Omicron-variant is still able to spread as breakthrough infections. This is impacting the city’s delivery of essential services and creating a strain on the public health system. As of Tuesday, 184 SFPD members, including 132 sworn officers, more than 250 staff at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, about 100 staff at Laguna Honda Hospital, 140 SFFD staff, and 167 SFMTA personnel have been exposed to COVID-19 and have entered or are entering quarantine. These departments are prioritizing essential operations and establishing contingency plans to address staffing concerns.

“We ask all our health system partners to do their part in providing urgently needed COVID-19 testing resources to their members when they need them. COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future, requiring a timely response in treatments and preventative care like testing,” said Director of Health, Dr. Grant Colfax. “It is a requirement that all health systems provide timely tests to their patients and staff, and we are making sure they do so.”

With students returning to in-person learning last week, Mayor Breed and SFDPH continue to reaffirm that schools have been low-risk settings with the proper safety protocols in place and that even with the certainty of additional cases, the mental health and educational impacts on students due to social isolation far outweigh the challenges of in-person learning. The city is working directly with SFUSD to provide a first series of 1,000 rapid tests to help educators test after quarantine to return to the classroom. The city is also providing 500,000 surgical masks for students, and 150,000 KN95 masks for staff.

“I want to recognize and thank the dedicated professionals at the Office of Contract Administration and the Department of Emergency Management who worked late into the evening to make sure harder to find protective masks and test kits would be readily available to our students and educators,” said City Administrator Carmen Chu. “The needs and interests of our children, their growth, learning and opportunities , are a top priority for this city.”

SFUSD is currently providing mobile rapid testing to students returning from winter break, in addition to SFDPH testing sites and the District’s ongoing Color testing program. Students are also receiving take-home rapid test kits supplied by the California Department of Public Health. For more information on testing for SFUSD students, please visit  https://www.sfusd.edu/covid-19-response-updates-and-resources/covid-19-testing-students/covid-19-testing-locations-and-dates.

“Our district is running one of the largest COVID-19 testing efforts in San Francisco,” said Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews. “Our community has done a great job at following public health protocols throughout this fall and we plan to continue to follow guidance from public health experts. We are committed to keeping schools open.”

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