Kern County is proposing to give away gift cards to residents who get tested for COVID-19 as an incentive to increase Kern’s testing numbers, County officials say.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors will address the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting. The proposal asks to allocate $360,000 to purchase and distribute up to 12,000 gift cards, valued at $25 each, to individuals receiving COVID-19 tests in geographical areas strategically identified by the Public Health Department.
“We have really low (testing) rates,” said Megan Person, the County’s public information officer. “This is a way for us to incentivize people to get tested. In turn, these gift cards can be used to stimulate our local economy. It’s a win-win.”
The money for the gift cards will come out of Kern’s CARES Act Fund. Person said many have asked if this is a good used of the CARES Act funding, and her response is yes.
“This is exactly what it was intended for — to address testing rates,” Person said. “This is absolutely critical, not just for our economy and keeping businesses open, but also how we track the disease itself.”
If the Board of Supervisors approve the proposal, made by Ryan Alsop, the County Chief Administrative Officer, the County will distribute the gift cards in the Census tracts that have been identified by the Health Equity Metric, Person said.
Kern County has a large testing capacity, according to Person; however, people are not taking advantage of it, despite the County making multiple attempts to encourage residents to get tested through marketing, advertising and partnering with organizations like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Community Action Partnership of Kern.
Michelle Corson, the spokeswoman for the Kern County Public Health Department, said there has been confusion throughout the pandemic regarding who can get tested, and she thinks this could be one reason why testing rates in Kern are so low.
“When testing first started, we were limited in the ability to test,” Corson said.
California first focused on priority testing, meaning those with symptoms were encourage to be tested first; however, things shifted.
“As a County, we worked so hard to get ample testing,” Corson said. “When we had sufficient testing available, things changed on who could get tested. We changed our messaging to say ‘Anybody, if you want, can get tested, and it’s free.'”
Health officials say testing is just as important as ever, especially with the holiday season quickly approaching. Although not recommended by health officials, people will likely be travelling and gathering in larger groups indoors. A new travel advisory released Friday recommends people traveling out of the state to quarantine for 14 days upon their return home.
Last week, Kern did not meet all metrics required by the state to remain in the red tier. Health officials said Kern may have to revert back into the purple tier — a more restrictive tier — if the pattern continues, causing businesses to stop their in-door operations. Kern will find out Tuesday if it has to revert back to the purple tier.
“We are concerned,” Corson said. “The daily numbers continue to rise. We were put on notice last week. We are very concerned that (the purple tier) is the direction that we are headed.”
The Kern County Public Health Department announced Monday 301 new COVID-19 cases in Kern County, bringing the total to 36,919 cases.