Overwhelmed labs prompt local COVID testing cancellation

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Test me please

There is a demand for COVID-19 testing in Beaverhead County as evidenced in the photo above by the long line of residents that turned out for the free testing on July 10. A second free test scheduled for July 24 has been canceled. J.P. Plutt photo

Laboratories nationwide are having difficulty keeping up with the mass of coronavirus tests coming in, forcing the cancellation of surveillance testing events locally and statewide.

Beaverhead County Public Health planned to hold an asymptomatic screening for potentially two thousand tests at Dillon History Days this weekend. That testing event is now canceled, but may be held later when test processing ramps back up. Public health officials held a drive through testing event a couple weeks ago, taking roughly 70 tests at that time.

Quest Diagnostics, the reference laboratory running Montana’s sentinel screening tests, told state officials it was overwhelmed and could not take any more asymptomatic tests at this time, Gov. Steve Bullock said in a press conference last week. Test results were coming back seven- to 10 days after a test was submitted, which was unacceptable to state officials.

Tests for people with symptoms of the virus continue to take place, and are processed through Montana’s state laboratory. Bullock said those tests tend to have a one- to three-day turnaround time. Bullock said the hope is to conduct surveillance testing again once the laboratories are able to process them in a short time frame.

Barrett Hospital and Health Care officials also cautioned they had a limited number of rapid COVID-19 tests, and are prioritizing tests for emergency surgery patients, admitted patients, trauma patients or others fitting a rapid-testing criteria.

“We completely understand that many people are interested in testing for COVID-19 out of concern for their own health as well as their loved ones. Unfortunately, we have very limited allotments for these rapid tests and we must use them first for our critically ill patients and surgical patients to protect not only our staff but the other patients needing hospitalization,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Greg Moore said. “As we continue to navigate this pandemic, we are hopeful supplies will be more available so we can offer testing to those that desire it.”

Hospital officials will test individuals with minor symptoms of the virus who do not need hospitalization and come in for the test; the tests will be processed by the Montana state laboratory. Symptoms include fever or chills; cough; shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; fatigue; muscle or body aches; headache; new loss of taste or smell; sore throat; congestion or runny nose; nausea or vomiting; and diarrhea. The list is not all-inclusive.

Hospital officials encourage residents to wear masks or face coverings anytime they leave the home, to avoid large crowds and gatherings, wash hands with soap and water, and avoid touching their faces.

Individuals who may have been exposed to the virus through someone with COVID-19, but have no symptoms, should call Beaverhead County Public Health at 406-683-4771 for instructions.