Testing for coronavirus should be the highest priority for our public health officials right now.
In Idaho, we have a local lab in Garden City that could be processing as many as 400 tests per day.
But, according to Idaho Statesman reporter Audrey Dutton, the machine at Cole Diagnostics’ lab is sitting idle.
That’s because the company that provides Cole Diagnostics with the software and reagents necessary to test for coronavirus had to prioritize larger, regional labs in the face of heightened demand.
“Because the demand for COVID-19 testing is much greater than supply, we worked with government agencies to develop an allocation strategy for our (novel coronavirus test) and instruments that prioritizes labs with the broadest geographic reach and highest patient impact,” spokesman Mike Weist said in an email to the Statesman.
That means tests being done in Idaho are being sent out of state to those regional labs, leading to delays of 10 or more days. We have heard anecdotally of people waiting more than 14 days for test results. The delay in testing is happening even to health care workers, which could lead to the spread of the disease even faster.
State health officials should be demanding that federal officials get resources and employees to these smaller labs to get them up and running immediately.
U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and Reps. Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson should work closely with Gov. Brad Little to make sure Idaho has what we need to get every possible testing site operating.
As of now, Idaho is ahead of the national average when it comes to testing per capita, but we need to do even better.
As of Wednesday, Idaho’s testing was at a rate of 4,211 per 1 million people, according to the website coronavirusapi.com, a page that provides officially reported data from each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. The national rate is about 3,200 tests per 1 million people. The highest rate is in Washington state, at 9,735 people tested per 1 million population.
The lowest rates are in Oklahoma and Mississippi, places that health officials are now saying are at high risk of outbreaks because of such low testing rates.
The ability to test people for the coronavirus is emerging as one of the great lessons for stemming the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Based on experiences in countries like Germany, Singapore and South Korea, what’s becoming clear is that testing quickly and massively has reduced the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
Even though South Korea and the United States had their first cases of coronavirus at around the same time, Jan. 21 and Jan. 20, South Korea’s testing rate was about 800 times higher than the U.S. rate by mid-March, according to the Harvard Business Review.
Within a week of its first case of coronavirus, South Korean government officials met with representatives from several medical companies to urge them to begin developing coronavirus test kits for mass production, according to The New York Times.
Within two weeks, thousands of test kits were shipping daily, and the country now produces 100,000 kits per day, has opened 600 testing centers, including 50 drive-thru sites, and has conducted more than 300,000 tests, according to The Times. That’s a rate of about 5,828 per 1 million population. Only 11 states have a higher testing rate than that.
It’s clear we can and should be doing more, and Cole Diagnostics is but one example of where Idaho has fallen down. The glass-half-full analysis, though, suggests that we have a tremendous opportunity to increase testing capacity and hopefully flatten the curve of this outbreak.
If we really want to do that, and get people back to work so our economy can rebound as quickly as possible, increasing our testing must be our key focus right now.
Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board.
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