An increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia is beginning to strain the state’s testing capacity.
More people are active now that the stay-at-home orders have been lifted. Some are going back to their workplaces. Others are taking family trips or going out more.
The changes mean more potential exposure and more people wanting tests.
“The bottom line is our capacity is not able to meet up with the public demand,” said Dr. Parham Jaberi, chief deputy commissioner for public health and preparedness for the Virginia Department of Health.
Virginia ramped up its testing capacity through May and June, when newly-documented cases and positivity rates in the state were steadily falling. But once cases started increasing again in July, the time it took labs to process them began to grow longer.
The recent increase in COVID-19 cases can be attributed to Virginia and neighboring states taking steps to reopen, Jaberi said.
“As we open up our economy, and individuals are going back to work, there are certain employers that are requesting their employees to be tested. Or, for other reasons, individuals not restricted to the stay at home order and are going out and about again,” he said.
Some people are trying to take their typical summer vacations to visit family members who are part of the vulnerable population, so they want to be tested to make sure they aren’t carrying the coronavirus to those family members.
More outbreaks are arising because of an increase in activity around offices or places of gathering.
“We are beginning to see in specific workplaces and in other settings that we weren’t seeing when the stay-at-home orders were in place, because we’re having more interaction,” said Jaberi, pointing out some areas of the state have more outbreaks than others.
Those areas are are mostly on the Eastern side of the state, including the Virginia Beach area.
Not all labs are having the same delays. The biggest delays are in the commercial laboratories. These labs are often used by healthcare providers and other retail sites. Some state-sponsored sites send their tests to the commercial laboratories.
Those labs aren’t just getting tests from Virginia, but from all over the nation. With all states trying to open up again, the labs are getting flooded with so many test that they can’t keep up with the two- to three-day turnaround they used to offer. Some people are waiting a week or longer to get results.
In the state labs or hospitals, the results come in much more quickly, but have still increased in wait time from one to two days to two to three days.
In the state, Jaberi said officials are working on other ways to speed up the process.
“We are going to be working with larger labs and smaller labs across the state to create a network that can help back up the state public health laboratory,” said Jaberi,
“We’re going to use our federal stimulus dollars this year and work with the state to develop that plan to how do we increase our capacity.”
He said the state is looking for other testing options. He claims many of the current delays deal with current testing methods. There may be other tests on the horizon that may be better than the swab tests or molecular PCR testing that is now being done.
Tuesday was the first time in over a month that a Virginia hospital reported difficulty in obtaining personal protective equipment, according to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association which publishes data on coronavirus patient status through its dashboard.
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