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Coronavirus test shortage? The state is working on it

Updated April 7, 2020 - 8:13 am

Nevada’s northern and southern labs are out of coronavirus testing swabs, but officials expect to get more kits this week, including rapid-result test kits, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Monday.

At a coronavirus briefing, Sisolak said the state has received 4,000 test swabs from the federal government and 3,000 reagent liquid kits that are used to test the samples after they are swabbed in the patient’s nasal cavity or mouth.

At Monday’s news conference, Sisolak also clarified a statement made Sunday on MSNBC in which he said the federal government wasn’t helping Nevada. Sisolak said that while federal officials provided test components, “we did not get complete kits.”

State health workers continue to struggle to find enough kits to fill growing patient demands, and some clinics have shut down temporarily in Las Vegas as they wait for new supplies.

New rapid-results testing provides promise for additional capability. On March 27, Abbott Laboratories announced it received federal approval for its test, called ID Now, that finds positive results in as little as five minutes and negatives in 13 minutes.

In Nevada, 18,639 people have been tested by government and private labs since Feb. 11, when the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory in Reno was given the green light to test.

As of Tuesday, 2,087 have tested positive; 16,552 tests have been negative.

At the briefing, state officials would not say how many tests the state will need.

Nevada National Guard Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry said testing is necessary for the state to plan its response.

“We make our best decisions when we expand testing,” he said.

Berry also said the state doesn’t agree with the federal government’s estimates of the testing materials and supplies needed for what’s ahead.

“They use a formula to say what should be coming into our state, and we are kind of challenging the formula they use,” he said.

Clinic tests

In Southern Nevada, the UNLV School of Medicine and Sahara West Urgent Care are expecting new shipments of kits this week. UNLV received 250 more COVID-19 test kits on Monday night, a spokesman said.

And Sahara expects to be one of the first to get the rapid-result test that allows it to inform patients within minutes whether they have the coronavirus.

The clinics are turning to private companies for their testing supplies. UNLV’s facility had stopped taking appointments until it had the supplies in hand.

Dr. Michael Gardner, UNLV School of Medicine vice dean, said shortages of testing materials are a national problem.

“Our problem isn’t any more than anyone else in the country, but we’ve had problems getting testing kits,” he said Sunday. “We felt obligated to let people know there was a chance we might have to close.”

Gardner said any closures would be temporary until the facility obtained more kits.

Nasal swab tests are administered in a parking area outside UNLV Medicine, 1125 Shadow Lane, and patients remain in their vehicle. Appointments are required; call 702-583-4408 between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays.

At Sahara West Urgent Care, practice manager Jose Triana said he also expects more kits early this week, but his facility has enough to continue to test about 80 people a day.

“We’re still going steady,” he said.

Clinics overwhelmed

Sahara was overwhelmed by patients in the last few weeks, testing so many people that staff couldn’t provide results in a timely manner. Sahara also requires an appointment, and the clinic now requests patients email a photo of their insurance ID card, home address and a phone number to info@saharwesturgentcare.com.

Both facilities are testing only people with symptoms or who have had contact with someone who was confirmed to have the virus.

Southwest Medical is operating four curbside testing sites around the metro area and has sufficient number of tests to provide to patients who meet the CDC guidelines, said spokesman James Stover.

He could not immediately say how many people have been tested at those sites, including Nellis Convenient Care: 540 N. Nellis Blvd., Las Vegas; Lake Mead Convenient Care, 310 W. Lake Mead Parkway, Henderson; Convenient Care at Flamingo Healthcare Center, 5580 W. Flamingo Road; and Craig Convenient Care, 4090 W. Craig Road, North Las Vegas.

Rapid results

Triana said he also hopes to get some rapid-result tests this week that will allow his staff to tell patients whether they are positive in about 15 minutes. He wouldn’t say how many of the test he hopes to receive other than “a bunch.”

“I don’t want to count them before we have them,” he said.

Gardner said his facility is studying the rapid-result tests, but drive-thru clinics might not be the best place for those tests.

“Personally, I think the first place that needs those are hospitals,” he said. “They can send people home who test negative so they don’t fill up the hospital.”

At-home testing

Other testing alternatives are popping up in the Las Vegas area.

New Orleans-based Ready Responders, which has offered at-home urgent care in Las Vegas for about a year, started offering coronavirus testing at home Friday for people who meet the CDC guidelines.

It also offers the service in Reno as well as Louisiana and is expanding through the East Coast and Los Angeles.

Patients who call the company for a test will be screened to determine if they have symptoms, have had exposure to a confirmed virus patient or are at risk because of pregnancy, health reasons or a first-responder job.

Then a nurse or paramedic will visit patients at home in protective gear and set up a telemedicine visit with a doctor who can order the test. The medical professionals enter the home in suits that protect them from the virus, including the N95 masks that filter 95 percent of all particles.

Dr. Doug Bushell, a physician with Ready Responders, said the private company has several hundred test kits and expects more from private companies he declined to name.

“If you’re asymptomatic and don’t have any risk factors, you don’t qualify,” he said in a phone interview. “From a medical standpoint, we only test people who need the test.”

UNLV and Sahara facilities are testing patients for free and expecting government reimbursement at a future date, but Ready Responders will bill people who have insurance or government coverage, like Medicare.

Bushell said that if a person has no insurance and can’t afford the test but meets the guidelines, the company will do it at no charge.

“It’s a public health emergency,” he said, adding the at-home testing allows patients to get results without going out and infecting others, or getting infected if they don’t have the disease.

Other options

While there are still no numbers of how many tests are needed and how many kits are available in the state, companies are approaching local health officials to help — and build coronavirus business.

An Arkansas company, Natural State Laboratories, last week promised the Southern Nevada Health District that it can provide 200 tests a day to the Las Vegas area with a turnaround for results within 48 hours.

“We are targeting the high risk patients in the State of Nevada,who are 65 and above in age, may or may not have underlying medical conditions, but must have Medicaid and or Medicare,” lab partner Al Hill wrote to the district.

“It is proposed that the SNHD partners up with NSL and aids in the creation and awareness of this test being offered. This could be done by using its location for testing and helping to get the word out to those Nevadans at the highest risk.”

SNHD spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said the company’s solicitation was forwarded to the appropriate staff, but she did not know if the district would partner with the Arkansas lab.

Quest Diagnostics issued a statement Monday that it has performed more than half a million tests and can provide 35,000 a day with a two- to three-day turnaround. The company did not provide numbers for Nevada.

“In addition, we have reduced our backlog significantly,” the statement said, cutting the 160,000 test backlog in half in recent days.

Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter. Kane is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing.

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