DHEC: 2,000 COVID-19 tests available in S.C. as virus spreads

Protecting yourself from coronavirus

COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) - As officials from across the United States point to the need for more coronavirus test kits, South Carolina officials report they have supplies to test 2,000 samples.

A spokesperson with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said on Thursday the state has the resources to test 100 people per day.

As of Thursday, only 87 people had been tested since Feb. 27, according to DHEC. Of those tested, six were reported as presumptive positives, meaning DHEC’s test came back positive and the sample needs to be confirmed by the CDC. Six tests were reported fully positive.

The department said it received it’s first test kit on Feb. 10.

DHEC officials said they are easily able to get more kits if they run out of the 1,000 already available. The state, however, is currently not close to its daily maximum.

The availability of supplies contrasts with the situation in North Carolina. Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday the state only had enough kits to test 250 people.

“We based our preparations on being able to get supplies we need to do tests from the CDC. It's obvious that we have not gotten the supplies we need from the CDC,” Cooper said.

Cooper isn’t the only official to call attention to the lack of available test resources over the past few days.

From California to Florida, officials reportedly addressed the need to increase testing.

On Friday, a New York health official pleaded for more resources in a letter, according to the New York Times.

The letter sent to the CDC said, “The slow federal action on this matter has impeded our ability to beat back this epidemic,” and “More resources are needed and FDA swift approval of new testing methods and kits would help enable prompt action and response.”

Illinois’ Governor J.B. Prizker said Tuesday, “I am very frustrated with the federal government. We have not received enough tests. We have tests, we are testing, but we would like to be able to test anybody that shows signs that they need to be tested and anybody who would like a test and we’ve been told now for days and days and days, indeed weeks I would argue, that their commercial labs will be coming online…we haven’t seen it.”

John Hopkins Medicine’s senior director of infection prevention told Congress last Friday, “testing capacity is not currently adequate and we need more. We need this as soon as we can have it.”

Testing within the United States did get off to a slow start.

The CDC’s developed test kit initially had technical problems that led to states receiving inconclusive and only partially accurate tests. There was also a low number of labs able to perform the tests, leading to delayed results.

“This has not gone as smoothly as we would have liked,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a call with reporters Friday, according to NBC News.

Public health labs didn’t start testing until February, nearly three weeks after CDC labs began, according to the CDC’s website.

As of Thursday, every state and 81 labs are testing for COVID-19.

As of Monday, the CDC reported testing 3,791 specimens and public health labs reported testing 7,288 specimens. That number reflects the number of tests, not people. The number of individuals tested is likely much lower, with some people submitting multiple specimens and the CDC retesting specimens submitted to state labs.

SCDHEC said it takes the CDC 24-48 hours to confirm a sample after the department sends it a test to confirm.

Vice President Mike Pence announced on March 4 more test kits would be distributed to allow for 1.5 million tests to be conducted.

Initial testing was also restricted to people who had symptoms, traveled to China, or had contact with an infected individual. The restrictions meant an infected individual in California was not tested for days.

Last week, the criteria was expanded to allow more people to get tested, but the criteria remains vague.

According to the CDC, “clinicians should use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and whether the patient should be tested.”

DHEC’s website states, “DHEC is in the process of increasing testing and is communicating to South Carolina healthcare providers about the new guidelines for testing.”

The department said it updated its criteria on March 5.

In an update, the department stated testing is still limited but healthcare providers must evaluate the patient and then consult DHEC about testing.

Currently, the department’s criteria includes if a patient shows signs of fever, cough or shortness of breath and has either had contact with a confirmed COVID patient, recent traveled to high-risk country or an absence of a more likely alternative diagnosis.

“These criteria are intended to serve as guidance for evaluation. In consultation with your local public health departments, patients should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine the need for testing,” the department stated in the release.

For more information on the coronavirus, visit the CDC and SCDHEC’s website.

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