DILLON — Public Health officials are hoping that the county’s expanded testing capabilities will help them better understand the spread of the new coronavirus in the area and what steps need to be taken to intervene.
This week, the county announced contracts with Stadium Medical and Quest Diagnostics to provide a new mobile COVID-19 virus testing service for residents. The service went into effect Monday, with a Stadium Medical team visiting residents at their homes to administer the tests.
As testing criteria opens up to more members of the community, the number of known positive cases in the area is likely to jump, as well.
“With more testing, we’re going to be seeing more cases,” said Sara Lopez, nurse manager with the county’s public health department. “How dramatic that will be will depend on the volume of testing, but I would expect that to be increasing. It’s reflective of the virus’ presence in the community, and the current illness we’re seeing.”
The mobile testing unit also should allow public health officials and health care workers to act more efficiently when positive cases are identified. The county is estimating the Stadium Medical team could conduct about 15 tests a day — that compares with 122 total tests run since early March — depending on factors like drive time and physician referrals. Lopez also said there would be considerations to bring in a second team if demand continues to rise.
And speed is vital for an effective response. While the turnaround times for the county’s tests had ballooned to over a week in some cases, officials are hopeful that with new lab testing through Quest Diagnostics — which also is providing the county with additional test kits — the turnaround time will come back down to two or three days.
“We have a surveillance team that’s calling people when tests are pending and when we get positive results,” Lopez said. “They’re identifying high-risk contacts and making notifications so people can make the best decisions on how to best self-monitor, quarantine and whatever else may be appropriate.
“And there’s so much value in administering tests where the result would make a clinically meaningful difference in the patient’s care. A test result that comes back seven days later doesn’t really benefit them much. So getting these test results back quicker will really help us tremendously.”
Expanded testing will continue only while test kits last. And while Lopez voiced optimism that the county could continue at its current testing capacity, she noted all jurisdictions are facing restrictions.
“We’re working in a resource-scarce environment,” she said.
For now, the county has opened up testing to an expanded number of referred patients, including those who are 65 years or older, patients with underlying health conditions, critical infrastructure workers and individuals with moderate symptoms.
According to Julie Sutor, the county’s director of communications, the county is paying for the at-home administering of tests but is expecting to be reimbursed for 75% of the cost by the federal government. Sutor said for those with insurance, there shouldn’t be any cost for the actual lab testing either.
“The system is catching up,” Lopez said. “We’re really looking forward to having this data. It really helps us do our work in the community. As the virus transmission starts to slow down because of closures and social distancing, I think getting this data will become even more valuable so we can trace the lines of the virus as it moves in the community and shut it down.”