BSC virus testing

A free COVID-19 drive-through screening is held in the parking lot of the Student Union on the campus of Bluefield State College. 

CHARLESTON — As more testing for COVID-19 is being done around the country, backlogs at commercial testing companies are hampering states in contact tracing.

“We are very concerned about getting test results back,” said Bill Crouch, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services.

If the tests are sent to commercial labs, results may not be received for seven to 14 days, he added.

“Those delays make it almost useless to do the tests,” he said. “We have to get quick results to do contact tracing.”

Crouch said in-state testing is faster, receiving results within 48 to 72 hours, but capacity is limited.

“We are working hard to develop more testing at the state level,” he said. “We are trying to expand it in-house.”

West Virginia University is developing testing as well, he added. “We want to be self-sufficient.”

That goal was echoed by Gov. Jim Justice, saying the testing delays is a nationwide problem.

“The commercial labs are being pushed to the limit in surges in many states,” he said. “As we go forward in West Virginia we want to be totally self-sufficient.”

Contact tracing only works if those who have been in contact with a positive case are quarantined quickly.

Dr. Ayne Amjad, the state Public Health Officer and head of the Bureau of Public Health, said those delays are a problem.

Anyone who has any symptoms should self-quarantine to wait for test results, she said.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also addressed the issue during his pandemic briefing Tuesday.

“Testing delays is an issue,” he said. “We all find that unacceptable. It makes contract tracing much more difficult if you don’t have the immediate results.”

Northam said commercial labs can’t keep up with the demand so the turnaround time is delayed.

That presents challenges in an area seeing a surge, he said, because instead of a turnaround time of one to two days it may be seven to 10 days.

Northam also on Tuesday met with Dr. Deborah Birx, Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

He said he personally requested federal assistance to increase testing capacity and reduce test turnaround times.

“She validated a lot of great work we are doing,” he said of Birx, but he was critical of a “disconnect” between federal health officials like Birx and Pres. Donald Trump.

“That is unfortunate,” he said. “This is a biological war. We all need to be working together, not sending mixed messages.”

Northam also said the testing crisis now is a failure on the part of the federal government.

“This started back in February,” he said. “We have had no direction, no national program.”

Northam said it has been a “chaotic” situation that “could have been avoided with better leadership.”

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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