A backlog of Washington’s COVID-19 testing has delayed the reporting of Clark County’s eight test results, which were expected back by midweek.
Clark County has eight people under investigation for the virus. Specimens for seven people were sent Monday to Washington Public Health Laboratories in Shoreline, and specimens for an eighth person were sent Tuesday.
On Monday, Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said the first seven tests would probably return by Tuesday or Wednesday. And then on Thursday morning, the agency’s Twitter account said results were expected back before the end of the day. Melnick said the state informed Clark County Public Health that it would receive the results by 2 p.m., but that didn’t happen.
Clark County Public Health has no control over how quickly the testing is done, because testing is handled by the state, said the department’s spokeswoman, Marissa Armstrong. Melnick stressed that the eight people awaiting test results are isolated.
“There’s a lot of panic going on about this, but it’s not like there’s nothing being done with those folks,” Melnick said. “The persons under investigation are not spreading the disease.”
Melnick said the state will eventually be able to test 200 specimens a day but that it’s falling short of that number now. It can test about 13 to 17 specimens a run and can do nine runs a day, he said, putting testing at 117 to 153 specimens a day. Melnick said there are usually multiple specimens tested for one person.
Danielle Koenig, a spokeswoman with the Washington Department of Health, said in an email that the state is hoping to work through its backlog today.
Until Thursday, the state’s lab in Shoreline was the only lab in Washington approved by the Federal Drug Administration to test for COVID-19, but the University of Washington Medicine virology laboratory has also now received FDA approval and came online Thursday, according to Koenig.
The state’s lab wasn’t designed for large-scale testing, which is needed now. The UW Medicine lab has the capacity to test 1,000 specimens a day and hopes to increase that capacity to 4,000 to 5,000 tests a day as the outbreak grows, according to The Seattle Times.
As of Thursday, Clark County Public Health’s specimens were at the state lab in Shoreline, because they were sent in earlier in the week before the UW Medicine lab opened.
Melnick said testing for people in King and Snohomish counties will take priority over Clark County tests due to the COVID-19 outbreaks there. King County has 51 confirmed cases and 10 deaths, according to the Department of Health, and Snohomish has 18 cases and one death.
“That’s where we’ve identified there’s community transmission going on,” Melnick said.
On Wednesday The Columbian reported on how the federal response to the outbreak has hindered local health departments in their response to COVID-19. The first test kits sent out last month for COVID-19 were flawed. That meant states initially had to ship specimens to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Georgia, which could mean waiting five days for test results.
It wasn’t until late last week that Washington got the ability to test for COVID-19 at its state lab, and it takes time for labs to build up capacity and become efficient, Melnick said. He said the Department of Health was doing the best it can under the circumstances and has been a good partner to work with. He wishes the initial rollout of testing had gone better, but said they have to do the best they can now.
The Department of Health will fax and call the test results to Clark County Public Health once they are known. Koenig said the results should come in the next day or two.
“There’s a delay and I’m frustrated by the delay, but there are reasons for the delay,” Melnick said. “I’m not happy about it, but the state capacity just arrived within the last week or so.”