COVID-19 cases have climbed in cities across California, but the Coastside’s rate appears to remain low. Half Moon Bay has just 18 cases; El Granada, La Honda, Pescadero, Montara and Moss Beach, fewer than 10 each.

But those numbers are deceptive, officials say. Without any testing sites on the Coastside, residents are largely in the dark as to how COVID-19 may or may not be spreading in their communities. Still, officials are clear on one thing: The novel coronavirus is present on the Coastside and not going away anytime soon.

The county is seeking clarity via a new limited testing site in Pescadero, created in partnership with local nonprofit Puente de la Costa Sur.

“Cases by city do not represent, in any way, a true representation of the actual burden of disease in the geographic area,” said Cassius Lockett, director of Public Health, Policy, and Planning at San Mateo County Health. “As testing expands over the next few months … we anticipate that the data will become more representative.”

That new data will inform the county as it phases into reopening, Lockett said. County Health Officer Scott Morrow said in a May 26 Board of Supervisors meeting that testing supply shortages and misallocation “need to be straightened out before we move much further.”

In addition to public health planning, testing is also critical on an individual level, said Half Moon Bay’s Dr. Dan McMillan, who has been testing symptomatic individuals in his office parking lot since March.

He said that testing expansion will help medical professionals understand how prevalent the pandemic is in various communities. Testing is also essential to contact tracing, which is the county’s best tool to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

“If one of my co-workers gets ill, I want to know.” McMillan said. “Knowledge is power.”

Even if testing efforts indicate relatively limited community spread, they will certainly reveal that people have contracted the virus without knowing, McMillan added. Without widespread testing, those individuals have no way of knowing whether to quarantine to protect close contacts and the population at large.

“What we had in March was complete uncertainty,” McMillan said. “Uncertainty is

way worse than knowing risks.”

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