Sonora testing site

People in line at the state-funded OptumServe COVID-19 testing site at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora before noon on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.

The COVID-19 testing site at Mother Lode Fairgrounds, set up by the state and run by Optum Serve-LHI, unexpectedly closed again Thursday for the fourth time in seven days due to reported staffing shortages.

The social media announcement comes in the midst of the winter holidays, while the Tuolumne County Public Health Department is urging everyone who spends time around people outside their individual households during the holidays to get tested.

Staffing issues that have prompted four days of unplanned closures of the largest test site in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties also coincides with the pandemic’s December surge, a crucial shortage of intensive care units in the 12-county San Joaquin Valley region, and an ongoing regional stay home order.

The unplanned closures of the Mother Lode Fairgrounds testing site also comes at the end of a month in which the county tallied 13 coronavirus deaths. The county’s official COVID-19 death total remained at 21 Thursday, with the most recent confirmed death reported Wednesday last week.

OptumServe bills itself as a federal health services business of Optum and UnitedHealth Group, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The company is a pharmacy benefit manager and care services group operating in 150 countries around the world. LHI is a subsidiary of OptumServe.

The county Public Health Department posted to social media on Thursday morning, “We have been informed that the State COVID testing site at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds is experiencing staffing issues and has had to close the site temporarily. We do not have information on when it will reopen at this time.”

People who had appointments scheduled through their patient portal should receive notifications of cancelation, Tuolumne County Public Health said.

The Mother Lode Fairgrounds is also scheduled to be closed on Friday, which is New Year's Day.

“We apologize for the inconvenience and understand that this is frustrating,” county public health staff said Thursday. “We continue to work with the site management team and the state to help resolve the challenges surrounding clinical staffing during this difficult time.”

The department advised people can check for alternative testing sites online at https://bit.ly/351GviT.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.net or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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