Tulare County officials urging all residents to get tested for COVID-19

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- There's hope on the horizon.

At least that's how Tulare County's Public Health Director Karen Elliott sees it.

She knows Tulare County's high case rate is holding it back from leaving the most restrictive tier of the state's reopening plan.

But she's also encouraged by a dip in that statistic last week, and thinks more COVID-19 testing could send us into the next tier soon.

"I think we have testing fatigue. People are tired of hearing that. We change the message every once in a while. I don't know if it's a trust factor, it's like well why do they want us to do this now?" says Elliott.

The county is making testing available to everyone in the hopes of improving the case rates that are holding them down in the restrictive 'purple tier'.

By doing more testing now, Tulare County's case rate will improve in two ways.

First, when someone tests positive, public health officials can isolate the infected and prevent any new cases.

Second, a county's case rate slightly improves when its testing volume surpasses the state median.

"You know we need to get below that seven. We're really close. Some counties have gotten to below seven because of that multiplier of testing above the average of the state," says Elliott.

Until Tulare County can meet the case rate metric, it will remain in the 'purple tier', which means the strictest rules for businesses and schools.

However, Elliott's department has allowed nearly 30 elementary schools to reopen as part of a stringent waiver system, including Valley Life Charter Schools in Visalia, which will start bringing back some students in one week.

"They are supposed to do a check-in before they get to school every day to speed up dropping off. We'll do temp checks and our hope is that nobody gets sick. We had a student that became ill last year and unfortunately passed away, so not COVID-related," says Valley Life Charter Schools Superintendent Lori Lackey.

Lackey knows her students are craving the social interaction they haven't had since last spring.

Likewise, officials at Kaweah Delta Medical Center say their patients are sorely missing the emotional support of visitors.

After a seven month no-visitor policy, the hospital is now welcoming a limited number back.

Kaweah Delta is partnering with Tulare County Public Health and Visalia's Neighborhood Church for a free testing event on Saturday.

And the county is also offering free testing at mobile testing sites through the month of October.

As always, there are three free OptumServe testing sites - in Porterville, Dinuba, and Tulare.

And of course, in addition to getting tested for COVID-19, health officials are reminding everyone to get their flu shot.

For more information on regular and mobile testing sites, see the information below.

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