Health Team

State takes steps to make coronavirus tests easier to get

Posted July 7, 2020 4:40 p.m. EDT
Updated July 7, 2020 11:30 p.m. EDT

— The state Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday issued a statewide standing order for coronavirus testing, which officials said would make it easier for more people to get tested.

DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said some of the hundreds of testing sites across North Carolina required people to be referred by a doctor before they could be tested. The standing order, issued by State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, eliminates that need and helps streamline the process so people can get their test results more quickly, Cohen said.

The state also is deploying up to 300 free, temporary testing sites in minority communities. The sites will be in 100 ZIP codes statewide identified as having limited testing access and will operate through the end of the month, Cohen said.

"When we test and identify infections promptly, we get the information we need to slow the spread of the disease, protect public health and save lives," she said. "Today's actions accelerate our ability to do just that."

The surge in infections nationwide has led to a shortage of some chemicals, known as reagents, needed to conduct tests, Cohen said. A similar shortage during the first weeks of the pandemic in March and April also hampered testing efforts.

The current shortage means the wait time for test results is now six to seven days, which Cohen called "far from ideal." State officials are pressing the federal government for assistance to expand the supply of reagents, she said.

"The federal government is doing some amount of directing of supplies to places of need," she said. "That request is going to be harder and harder for the federal government to fulfill as we watch all of these states that are really surging with cases around us."

Eventually, different kinds of tests will likely be needed to meet the growing demand without stressing supply lines, Cohen said.

"We are still using a pretty slow method for identifying this virus," she said. "While there are some more rapid tests, they are not as sensitive."

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