State leaders on Wednesday said that testing for COVID-19 remains limited because of a lack of swabs and other equipment needed to safely administer the tests.
Early on, the state performed “targeted testing,” restricting tests to certain high-risk groups in order to keep supplies from being depleted. Now, the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Kris Box, is advising health care providers to test all people they believe could have COVID-19, regardless of underlying health conditions.
Box said an important next step for the state as it looks to reopen the economy is to make sure anyone who is symptomatic is tested.
And while testing in Indiana has been on the rise, the state is still falling short of its goal of testing 6,300 Hoosiers a day for the novel coronavirus. As of Tuesday, 69,470 people have been tested in Indiana, according to a report from the state. That’s an increase of 2,206 from the previous day, far short of the goal.
“At this point in time, my ask is for physicians and health care providers across the state to be able to test individuals that are sick that they feel could be sick with COVID-19, and they don’t have to have a lot of underlying conditions and they don’t have to work in a long-term care facility,” Box said during an afternoon press briefing.
But she acknowledged that some health care providers still don’t have access to personal protective equipment, the swabs and viral transport media needed to administer the test.
“That may be a barrier to some of them, and we are working to make sure we identify those gaps and those barriers and remove those to the best of our ability,” she said.
It’s unclear how many providers are willing to test but don’t have the equipment necessary to do so. Box said the state has purchased some tests—which include the swab and the viral transport media—but she wouldn’t say how many, adding that the federal government has taken over the supply chain, making it more difficult for states to find and buy the equipment on their own.
Across the country, the standard test for COVID-19 requires that health care workers administering the test be in full protective gear and use a particular swab that has been difficult to access. Both requirements have contributed to a lack of testing.
To increase testing, the Food and Drug Administration last week announced that it would allow a broader range of swabs to be used in tests. It also said that a sample can be collected by circling the swab in the nose rather than sticking a longer swab into the nostril toward the throat. In some instances, saline can be used to store the test rather than the viral transport media.
Being able to test with the shorter swab and saline would “open up the ability to test” much wider, Box said Wednesday. The state is working with labs across the state now to validate the alternative test.
Box said she still hears from Hoosiers who were sick with COVID-19 symptoms, believed they had the disease but were not tested.
“I know it’s a problem. I believe it,” she said. “We’re working very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Some federal funding has been made available to states to ramp up testing so long as they have a plan to do.
Box said she’s working with several groups and labs across Indiana to determine who is testing, their testing capacity and the barriers providers are facing, plus the ability for tests sites across the state to be open daily so Hoosiers know when they’re open and where to find them.