RICHMOND — Despite claims by the Trump administration that states have plenty of testing capacity, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said that capacity is not yet available because of material shortages.
Northam and state health officials said Monday that Virginia still faces shortages of things from actual test kits and chemicals to swabs to take samples and containers to hold the samples until they get to test laboratories.
While actual lab capacity is growing as private labs reduce their test turnaround times and more state and hospital labs become available, Northam said Virginia still faces shortages of basic supplies to collect samples from patients.
According to the state’s COVID-19 case tracking website, 56,735 people out of the state’s 8.54 million, — 0.66% of the population — have been tested for the novel coronavirus since the pandemic began.
The LENOWISCO Health District, with about 86,500 residents, has had 0.54% of its population tested since the pandemic began.
Tennessee, with a population of 6.83 million, has had 1.47% of its residents tested.
Northam announced the formation of a state testing work group to tackle the shortages of testing supplies. The group, led by former state Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Remley and State Epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake, will deal with three issues:
— Getting sufficient test and sample collection supplies.
— Decreasing test times and getting more timely results.
— Making sure test sites and criteria for testing patients are expanded.
While testing has been limited to three main groups — hospitalized patients with COVID-19 symptoms; first responders and health care workers; and persons in long-term care facilities — Northam said he hopes to see physicians take advantage of growing test capacity for patients in their own practices.
Northam said that pressure from the Trump administration for states to ease their lockdown restrictions still depends on the state’s ability to test and for the state’s new coronavirus cases rate to flatten and decline.
“We’re getting mixed messages from the White House,” Northam said.
While state health officials agree with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that states should be able to show a 14-day consecutive decline in the numbers of new cases each day, Northam said Trump then sent out his “liberate Virginia” tweets encouraging a demonstration last week and another demonstration expected Wednesday.
Repeating the phrase, “one team, one mission,” spoken by Vice President Mike Pence during a conference call with governors earlier Monday, Northam said, “I would ask Virginians to remember one team, one mission.”
Northam said he watched demonstrators last week with children and adults inches from each other.
“They’re literally putting themselves in danger, putting us in danger and putting health care workers in danger,” Northam said.