Faro Tabaja, owner of Waves Barbershop & Boutique in Manhattan Beach, CA, on Wednesday cuts Gene Geiser's hair. Tabaja moved the barber's chair into the entryway to create a safer environment due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Faro Tabaja, owner of Waves Barbershop & Boutique in Manhattan Beach, CA, on Wednesday cuts Gene Geiser's hair. Tabaja moved the barber's chair into the entryway to create a safer environment due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

With coronavirus test results taking up to two weeks, officials in California are flying blind in their efforts to control the state's record outbreak.

We can't rein in the virus, which is transmitted by people who don't even know they're infected, without widespread and timely testing. California is failing on both counts. Here we are more than four months after the governor's first shutdown order and we still lack adequate capacity and speed.

That means asymptomatic people are going to work, to grocery stores and to visit friends without knowing they're exposing others to the coronavirus. That means that, when health officials do learn of a person infected, it's way too late to start notifying acquaintances. Effective contact tracing requires turnaround of 24 to 48 hours.

If we can't immediately fix the testing bottleneck, and there's no indication that we can, Gov. Gavin Newsom should reimpose hard statewide stay-at-home orders like we had in March. California state Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, last week called on Newsom to do just that. It's time for the governor to act.

The current surge in California cases shows that, contrary to the claims of Newsom and President Donald Trump, we can't reopen the economy and simultaneously tamp down the virus.

On Tuesday, the virus killed a record 164 people in California. The state last week hit record levels of coronavirus hospitalizations and of patients in intensive care. And test data, which because of delays is now a lagging indicator, last week showed that a state record 8% of those tested have the virus, nearly double the 4.4% rate in early June.

We can't safely reopen the economy until we control the spread of the novel coronavirus. The current surge across California is unacceptable - as is Newsom's tepid response and failure to sound the alarm about testing capacity and turnaround time.

Yes, the state has been hampered by the Trump administration's failure to make manufacturing of testing supplies a national priority. The president has abdicated his responsibility to lead the nation. As a result, California laboratories are now competing with heavy demand from states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona for precious testing supplies.

But those are the cards we in California have been dealt. It's time to stop deceiving ourselves that we have the situation under control or that we're going to anytime soon.

State health officials brag that they are averaging about 122,000 tests a day. But that's far less than the 223,000 tests the Harvard Global Health Institute estimates California should be conducting just to stem the growth of the virus - and it's nowhere near the 825,000 daily tests needed to greatly reduce new infections to safely reopen the state.

Meanwhile, not only do we lack adequate testing, the state has failed to provide sufficient data to intelligently determine which parts of the economy can safely reopen and which parts cannot. Too many of the governor's policies are being driven by politics rather than sound science. Too much has been reactive rather than proactive.

The state is right to prioritize allocation of the limited testing to the most critical needs. But, under the state's own policies, the slow testing turnaround times mean that general members of the population are not eligible for testing.

Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest health plans in California, is averaging a five-day response for most of its testing, says Dr. Stephen Parodi, infectious disease specialist and clinical lead for the health system's coronavirus response. Anecdotal examples indicate it's much longer.

Parodi says Kaiser's labs are hamstrung by the national supply shortages. And he acknowledges that the five-day average is too slow, especially because it impairs efforts at contact tracing.

Indeed, if individuals can't find out if they have the virus in a timely way, if businesses can't determine whether their workers are infected, we can't safely keep the economy open.

It's time to stop pretending we can.

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