State lab official says we still have a long way to go when it comes to testing for COVID-19

Posted at 6:49 PM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 19:59:11-04

WISCONSIN — When it comes to getting our country back to normal, many factors come into play. One key in doing so is diagnostic testing for the coronavirus. State data shows capacity has increased, but lab officials say they're still facing many bottlenecks.

Assistant Director of Communicable Diseases at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, Dr. Alana Sterkel, says COVID-19 testing is much more available than it was at the onset of the pandemic.

"The capacity for testing here in Wisconsin has grown significantly," Dr. Sterkel said. "Many more clinical labs are bringing up the testing."

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, as of Monday, April 13, 24 labs were testing and could do so for 3,888 people a day. Compare that to one month ago on March 13, when labs could only perform about 1,274 tests a day.

Despite the improvement, Dr. Sterkel says we still have a long way to go.

"We're not quite at the phase where we can start testing anyone who wants a test," Dr. Sterkel said.

While some labs aren't even close to reaching testing capacity or can test less critical patients, others have significant backlogs.

Dr. Sterkel said that's because testing and collection kit shortages continue to plague parts of the state. Also, with a lack of PPE equipment, some labs are limiting the number of tests they're conducting.

"They'll put in these orders for lab supplies, and weeks later, a fraction of what you order actually shows up," Dr. Sterkel said.

As the backlogs resolve, and we have sustained capacity, state health officials said they hope to zero-in on testing certain groups of people. They discussed this plan during the state briefing Monday.

"We also are very interested in using some targeted capacity to make sure we are wrapping around outbreaks in places like long-term care facilities, assisted living facilities, jails and prisons, and other congregate settings," Wisconsin Secretary of Health Services Andrea Palm said.

Ultimately, they hope this information will eventually lead us towards the end goal of getting back to our daily lives.

"Those things are going to have to happen if we don't want to be sitting here talking next year at this time about the same thing," Governor Tony Evers said.

TMJ4 News also asked Dr. Sterkel about those reports of diagnostic tests that can provide results within minutes. She said they aren't widely available yet.

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