Jeramey Jannene

Why Aren’t More COVID-19 Tests Given?

More available now, but other factors may limit use, says Department of Health Services official.

By - Apr 22nd, 2020 06:28 pm
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2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A large gap continues to exist between the number of people that Wisconsin labs have the capacity to test for COVID-19 and the number that are actually tested. Across April, labs have processed 1,619 tests per day on average while Department of Health Services (DHS) officials have reported labs have test kits on hand to process over 7,200 tests per day.

But even members of the Wisconsin National Guard have had trouble getting tested.

During a press briefing Wednesday, Wisconsin National Guard leader Major General Paul Knapp said five citizen-soldiers are showing symptoms of the disease after working at polling locations across the state on April 7th. But only one was tested (it came back negative).

Knapp said the other four had reached out to doctors, either in person or virtually, to discuss their symptoms. “They were not offered a COVID-19 test,” he said.

Department of Health Services (DHS) officials reported April 10th they had provided new guidance to healthcare workers on who could be tested. “If they think COVID-19 might be the diagnosis, they can feel free to order the test,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer at the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

So why aren’t more people being tested?

“That’s a great question and it’s one we are working with our healthcare partners on right now,” said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk on Wednesday in response to a question from Urban Milwaukee.

She cited three factors that could be delaying the growth in testing.

The state originally allowed testing only for those requiring hospitalization and symptomatic individuals working in health care. “We gave them that counsel early in the pandemic because we didn’t have enough tests,” said Willems Van Dijk. “We now have a very different situation, we are trying to get the order to our physician and healthcare partners that the scenario has changed.” She praised the state’s growing number of private partners for helping grow testing capacity.

She said the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) also could be inhibiting testing. “You can’t test unless you have PPE,” said the deputy secretary. Obtaining an adequate supply of PPE is one of six criteria Governor Tony Evers and DHS are monitoring as part of the Badger Bounce Black plan. A Wisconsin Hospital Association dashboard shows that as of Wednesday, at least 63 hospitals in the state have less than a seven day supply of critical PPE items.

The final factor is a mindset shift necessary for physicians. She said the strategy around seasonal influenza has long been guiding people to stay home and recover. “They’re probably going to tell you, ‘stay home, don’t’ go to work, don’t expose other people, drink fluids, call me back if things get worse,'” said Willems Van Dijk. “What’s different here, and we need our healthcare partners to understand, we need them to test people to help with our public health response.”

“It’s a real mind shift for our physicians and we are appreciative of everything they’re doing,” she said.

The Badger Bounce Back plan calls for the state to ultimately be able to process 85,000 tests per week, over 12,000 per day. On Wednesday DHS reported labs processed 1,886 tests over the past 24 hours, the highest total reported since April 10th.

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Categories: Health

One thought on “Why Aren’t More COVID-19 Tests Given?”

  1. maggie.kuhn3@gmail.com says:

    Thank you for looking into this issue. It’s an important part of the overall story of what’s going on in our state.

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