After weeks of Orange County residents struggling to get Covid-19 tests to protect others and themselves during the virus’ fourth wave, a silver lining has emerged.   

As many as four types of at-home testing kits per month per household are available to Orange County residents who order from the federal government. 

To order them, click here

Yet that still doesn’t meet the needs of the poorest, most vulnerable residents in areas like north and central Orange County where many residents are living in multi-generational, multi-family households, say community health workers who stepped in throughout the pandemic to fill health equity gaps for the County of Orange. 

“We recognize the standard 4 people” per address “doesn’t apply to our communities,” said Isabel Becerra, CEO of the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers – a group which Becerra now says will go above the federal plan and provide as many as 8 tests per month for some high-risk cases among her community centers’ patient network.

Around 400,000 people who struggle to access health insurance are registered as patients with the coalition’s community centers, Becerra said. 

“Despite the fact we have quote-unquote more supply, it’s still dependent on the population knowing how to access them,” Becerra said, adding it won’t be a problem for people who have reliable transportation or access to the internet. 

And for those who don’t?

“The issues facing our uninsured and vulnerable communities are not new. The lack of transportation, lack of language services … it’s what’s going to continue to keep them behind in getting either services or access to the supply we now have.”

Isabel Becerra, CEO of the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers

OC Public Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau also acknowledged the testing shortfall affecting many residents during a public information briefing on Tuesday.

“Even with 1 billion tests made available, the first tranche…is probably not enough,” Chau said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. 

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To draw a picture of the need: 

In the first two weeks of January, 43,000 take-home Covid-19 test kits were sent to one of Orange County’s most pandemic-impacted school districts by the state, covering a densely-populated metropolitan stretch of Latinos and working-class residents. 

They were all gone within just a week-and-a-half, at the Santa Ana Unified School District, said district spokesperson Fermin Leal in a Tuesday phone interview.

School district officials don’t expect to get more any time soon but are continuing to offer weekly testing for all students and staff on campus, Leal said.

Despite acknowledging that the current plan from the feds doesn’t go far enough, Chau said there is “no shortage in supply of options for testing.”

While rapid tests are currently in high demand but short supply, other testing options such as PCR tests are widely available according to Chau. 

But such tests take days to arrive and process, in some cases over a week, which is why Chau encouraged county residents to stock up on tests proactively – rather than scrambling for one in the midst of a surge or possible positive. 

The county can’t help most residents with getting a rapid test, as it’s currently sending all its stock of rapid tests to retirement homes and private schools, according to Chau. 

“My team prioritizes what’re the most vulnerable populations,” Chau said during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. “My team decided to prioritize those facilities and send the test kits we got from the state to these facilities.”

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Where else in Orange County can one get tested? 

It’s not easy. 

The county links to a few different websites that offer testing, but none offer easy access to a quick diagnosis. 

For Placentia resident Christopher Brenn, some of the most helpful information has been crowdsourced by members of the community: 

“I do know there have been more rapid antigen tests available in stores over the last few days cause I’m on this Facebook forum for Placentia news and they’ve been posting things like, ‘Hey they just got a shipment of rapid tests at CVS’ … and half an hour later someone will post, ‘They’re all gone now.’”

“It’s better than it was even a week ago where it was almost impossible to find tests in stores anywhere,” Brenn said. 

The county’s website, on its testing access information page, links to the state website and also lists a number for Latino Health Access, as well as a link to the county’s at-home testing kit vendor, where residents can order an at-home test for themselves. 

While that website was experiencing a backlog, a spokesperson for the company handling the county’s at-home test shipments, Nancy Sterling, said the backlog has since been cleared and if an order comes in before 3 pm it gets mailed out the same day.

Any tests that come in after 3 pm are mailed out the next day. 

Chau during Tuesday’s public information briefing cast such a delay as a one-off and that it’s “not a big concern” for county officials. 

Chau said residents can also drop off at-home tests at any county drop off location the day they take it, which will be picked up and processed by the lab. 

“All of our county agencies as well as school districts have put deposit bins for people to drop off their tests and then the lab comes up directly several times a week to take it up to the lab, and I know that process has been highly utilized by our community,” Chau said.  

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The final link on the county’s website leads to CovidClinic.org, which offers a variety of locations in Orange County to get tested.

Yet the only free option is the PCR test that takes several days for a result, and any rapid testing starts at $129, according to the company’s website. 

Beyond the county, the state offers a map of potential test locations that can be found here, showing nearby businesses and state facilities that offer free testing.  

Santa Ana Unified School District also hosts a series of free testing clinics with different locations each week for Santa Ana residents. To view the locations for the week of Jan. 17, click here.

“It’s of no cost to anyone at any point,” Leal said. “No out of pocket costs to anyone.”

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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