Tenting outside Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital on March 18. Photos by John Chadwell.
Tenting outside Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital on March 18. Photos by John Chadwell.

Across the nation, thousands of people have sat in long drive-thru lines waiting to be tested for COVID-19. This is not the case in Hollister.

There are no such lines at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital, but it was one of the first to conduct drive-thru testing; and there are no authorized COVID-19 test kits, per se.

“We have testing supplies, not test kits,” said Frankie Gallagher, director of marketing and community relations at Hazel Hawkins. “It is a standard medium (nasal swabs and lab test tubes) that are used to collect specimens. We don’t do any of the actual testing here, the specimens are sent to Monterey County Public Health lab.”

Gallagher said testing conducted at the hospital is done to rule out flu or other illnesses (it’s still flu season).

“If they come back negative and the person meets CDC criteria, the specimens are sent to the public health lab,” she said.

What Hazel Hawkins does have are 371 standard swab tests used for run-of-the-mill viruses, with 700 more on back order. That’s according to Dr. Michael Bogey, medical director of the Hazel Hawkins emergency room.

“The question is how many tests can we send to the CDC,” Bogey said. “I don’t have the answer because they won’t tell me.”

He said 10 to 14 tests a day seems to be the most the CDC can handle from the hospital.

“The bottleneck is the CDC,” he said. “I would love to test this whole place, but it’s just not an option.”

Quest Diagnostics has begun testing, Bogey said. They are using approved kits, but the processing time is much longer than with the CDC. He also said the federal government has not provided Hazel Hawkins with a machine to do the tests.

“For whatever reason, they decided we don’t need a machine, so we have to outsource the tests to Monterey County Public Health to be processed,” he said. He added that within a week or two, the hospital expects to start testing in-house.

San Benito County is about to find out if sheltering in place, or flattening the curve, actually works, Bogey said.

“I compare it to all of us being soldiers in a trench on the front line and our Air Force just dropped a ton of explosives on the enemy,” he said. “Then when the whistle blows and we all stand up to charge the enemy, we’re about to find out if we hit the enemy, or is our medical system going to be overrun?”

The fear is that the health care system will be overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases to the point of being shut down, he said.

“Talk about trying to treat a heart attack, or a stroke, an acute appendicitis,” he said. “The place will be swamped with COVID-19 patients and we’ll not have the capacity to treat anyone else. That’s why we’re trying to flatten that curve, so we can stay afloat and take care of everybody.”

Bogey encouraged people who may have cold or even flu symptoms to stay at home. If an individual shows symptoms for COVID-19, he advised they contact their doctor first and let them determine if they should come to the hospital, where they will be seen at one of the triage tents set up outside. Bogey said about 30 people have been seen at the tents every day for the last week.

People are stressed and angry that they cannot be tested unless they have specific symptoms, Bogey said, adding that the CDC is dictating who can be tested. If someone is admitted, they will be tested primarily to protect the health care workers. Because the hospital has a limited supply of testing materials, it has to follow CDC guidelines on who should be tested, which does not include people who just want to know if they are positive, Bogey said.

Bogey said that the supply of personal protection equipment is drying up.

“The people have to practice social distancing and stay at home as much as possible. It’s not about being young and you’re not going to get sick; it’s about spreading it and older people will get sick and overwhelm the hospital.”

Updated to include additional information.


Other related BenitoLink articles:





John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...