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COVID testing limited here and nationally

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by Jim Larson
ButteNews.net
March 22, 2020

As of Friday, Montana possessed 2,000 COVID-19 tests available for a population of one million, noted Butte-Silver Bow’s health officer.

None of those tests reside in the county, nor with any county government in Montana. They are with the state lab in Helena. That lab’s turnaround time is 24 to 48 hours. There are for-profit labs testing as well. Their turnaround time is 6 to 10 days, B-SB Health Officer Karen Sullivan wrote in an email.

Those selected for testing are swabbed locally, and the sample is sent to the state lab, Sullivan said. Eligibility for testing is determined by the patient’s health care provider and is based on the provider’s judgement, she noted. She added that the providers often consult with her department.

“As you know, there is a national testing shortage—this problem is not unique to Butte-Silver Bow,” she said.

That shortage began with the federal government, and it blindfolded the nation’s effort to contain the virus early on, national news outlets have reported.

At first all testing was done at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia.

By Feb 5, the CDC began to ship test kits “to a network of about a hundred state, city, and county public-health laboratories,” wrote Robert P. Baird in a March 16 piece in the New Yorker. Those kits allowed tests to be run on roughly 300 people, Baird noted.

 A handful of the labs were able to verify that the kits worked as they were supposed to, but roughly 36 of the labs found inconclusive results associated with one of the reagents. Five more labs found problems with two reagents, Baird reported.  A reagent is a substance that is added to other chemicals to aid in analysis, according lexico.com.

The US didn’t have a contingency plan for the failure of the initial CDC test kits, and the subsequent delay hampered containment of the virus, Baird reported.

According to Sullivan, patients receive priority testing if they are hospitalized and exhibit Covid-19 symptoms. Persons over 60 who exhibit systems are at the top of the list as well. Other groups considered important to test are those with chronic disease, compromised immune systems, and health care workers who have had contact “with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient.”

The health department encourages people who don’t feel well to “stay home and contact their healthcare provider by phone for guidance about clinical management,” Sullivan wrote.

Before a patient is tested for the COVID-19 virus, they should be tested for other common respiratory infections, she said.

Sullivan reiterated that COVID tests were limited in Montana, as they were throughout the nation, “… so these screening processes are occurring nationally, including in Butte-Silver Bow.”

Sullivan restated that people who exhibit symptoms should call their provider. If they don’t have a provider, they should call an urgent care clinic. Only go to an ER with severe symptoms such as shortness of breath, she said.

On Saturday, during the Trump Administration’s daily coronavirus task force briefing, Brett P. Giroir reported that the US was transitioning into large-scale testing, and he noted that 195,000 people had completed testing. He added that that number did not include pending test results. Mr. Giroir is assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant said in a Wired magazine interview that testing can still make a difference. “We should be doing a stochastic process random probability sample of the country to find out where the hell the virus really is. Because we don’t know. Maybe Mississippi is reporting no cases because it’s not looking. How would they know.” Mr. Brilliant helped to eradicate smallpox, and he is Chairman of the Board of Ending Pandemics. The interview was published on March 19.



 

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