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Nevada has more COVID-19 tests, but many patients can’t get one

Nevada labs have received hundreds of patient specimens to test for the new coronavirus, but getting one administered can still be difficult.

Complaints about the lack of access to testing have echoed throughout the state during the past week, coming from Nevada’s governor, county health officials and Las Vegas Valley residents, among others.

As of Sunday, there were 26 people in the state who had tested positive for the virus.

During press briefings Thursday and Sunday, Gov. Steve Sisolak said the federal government has hamstrung the states efforts to conduct more testing.

“Like every other state, we have not been provided the sufficient number of test kits to meet demand for our state,” he said Sunday. “As a result we don’t know the full extent of what we’re dealing with.”

To track new cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, Southern Nevada public health officials said they were working to bolster resources in the public lab handling tests in Clark County, while the governor said he has requested rapid federal aid to assist with this aim.

Testing around the state

Testing capacity has increased in the past week, but figures provided to the Review-Journal by the two public labs in the state indicate that only a few hundred tests had been administered so far. Private labs that recently began offering tests are helping, but no figures on how many patients had been tested were available.

The reasons testing remains relatively rare in the Silver State aren’t fully apparent but include delays by the federal government in getting tests to public labs across the country as well as a lack of clarity on who should be tested.

As of Friday, 233 tests for the virus had been processed at the Southern Nevada Health District lab, the public health lab in Clark County. In previous few days, the lab had been operating at capacity, which is about 60 tests per day, officials said.

“We have some options for additional staff and possibly equipment” by working with community partners, Michael Johnson, director of the district’s community health division, said Friday. Requests also have been made through the state to the federal government for additional testing capacity.

“It concerns me that we have people who potentially could have COVID-19 who are having barriers to testing,” said Vit Kraushaar, a medical investigator for the health district.

“I think that’s something that we really need to be working on improving … dramatically increasing our number of tests,” he said, noting that the lab had about 1,000 tests on hand.

Meanwhile, the state public health lab that handles testing for samples collected outside Clark County had received about 400 samples to test as of Saturday, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.

Nearly half the samples had arrived at the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory in Reno on Friday and Saturday.

Lab director Mark Pandori said Wednesday that his facility had about 1,600 tests on hand and is capable of running about 120 tests a day.

The lab is training more of its workers to conduct the tests.

Private labs such as LabCorp and Quest also are now offering testing through medical providers and adding to the state’s capacity, public health officials said.

President Donald Trump announced Friday at a news briefing at which he declared a national emergency that drive-through coronavirus testing sites in the parking lots of major retailers, such as Walmart and Target, would soon be established as part of a public-private partnership.

Trump also announced that an online screening tool will be released for people who believe they should be tested.

An additional 1.4 million tests will be available next week, Trump said, and 5 million will be available within a month.

Anger over lack of testing

Southern Nevadans have expressed frustration and even anger that testing wasn’t available to them despite new federal guidelines that give much more discretion to medical providers in determining who gets tested.

Dov Armon, a 34-year-old Las Vegas resident, acknowledged that he became panicky when his flu-like symptoms, such as fever and fatigue, didn’t improve after a course of anti-viral medication for the flu.

On Tuesday, he went by ambulance to Summerlin Hospital Medical Center, where staffers diagnosed him with bronchitis and provided antibiotics but didn’t test him for the coronavirus.

“I asked for a coronavirus test, and they kept telling me ‘no, no, no,’” he said. “They kept telling me I’m not a candidate, I don’t really meet the criteria for it: travel outside the country and being exposed to someone who has tested positive.”

On Wednesday, after experiencing shortness of breath, he walked into Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center and requested the test.

“I told them, ‘That’s why I’m here. That’s what I came for,’” he said.

Armon said he was kept in isolation and swabbed for the virus, among other tests. As of Friday, he had had not gotten his test results from the health district.

“People need to get tested so we know how many people out there are positive for it,” said Armon. “These numbers need to be known. How widespread is it? What precautions do they need to take?”

Henderson resident Sally Talbert, 76, said that after she fell ill with respiratory symptoms for six weeks and did not respond to treatment, her doctor told her to go to a local emergency room to get tested for the coronavirus.

“I wouldn’t have even gone there had my doctor not said, ‘I think you need to do this because of your history of traveling and you’re not getting significantly better,’ ” said Talbert, who had recently traveled by plane to San Diego.

Talbert said she was diagnosed with severe bronchitis by a physician at the Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center emergency department who said he could not test her for the coronavirus.

“The only way that they could even get me tested was to admit me, and I would have to have a fever, and then they could request a test from the CDC,” she said the doctor told her.

Brian Labus, an assistant professor of epidemiology at UNLV, said such frustration is understandable, but patients need to let their doctors decide whether someone should be tested for coronavirus.

“It happens every time there’s an outbreak. People demand lab testing,” he said. “The challenge is when all those people want to get tested at the same time, you have to sort through them to find out who really needs to be tested and will provide us the best information to better protect our community.”

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter. Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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