Gov. Little lays out new strategy for COVID testing

Posted at 4:49 PM, May 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-22 18:49:54-04

BOISE — Governor Brad Little wants to expand the criteria for who should be tested for coronavirus and when.

The federal government recently put into place a goal to test two percent of the population each month. According to the testing task force, for Idaho to meet that goal, the state would need to test around 8,000 Idahoans every week from now until the end of the year.

"To achieve this goal they sent 40,000 swabs and viral transport media for the month of May, and we'll expect the exact same amount for the month of June," said Elke Shaw-Tulloch,

"This will help, but more testing needs to be in order to ensure that we have the people, testing instruments and supplies to test all Idahoans needing to be tested."

The task force is proposing five testing priority levels, with priority group one being those with the highest need for testing and priority group five being those with the lowest need. If all priority groups were to be tested weekly, the state would be conducting 150,000 tests per week.

To manage that, the group is needing assistance from the state laboratory as well as other local and out of state labs.

"An example of a priority one is any symptomatic health care worker," said Christopher Ball, co-chair of the Testing Task Force.

"for this group testing provides a same day result is ideal, we estimate the need for this group could be up to 1200 tests per week, samples would mostly be collected at health care facilities and if possible performed at a high throughput laboratory locally."

Other examples of those classified in priority one are residents in nursing homes, both for people who are ill and those who are asymptomatic.

"We are working quickly to increase testing abilities for this vulnerable population, and in total, we estimate that all the priority group people, both those people with and without symptoms, could require 17,000 tests per week," said Ball.

Priority 2 is asymptomatic individuals and staff in correctional facilities, which could mean 26,000 tests weekly.

Priority 3 is asymptomatic employees in essential businesses- another potential 86,000 test per week.

"The takeaway method from these recommendations is we will need to build incredible testing capacity," said Ball.

State labs can process about 200 tests per day, but demand has been fluctuating.

"As local laboratories have brought on additional testing capabilities, the demand for the state labs work has gone down, so we've shifted our focus to move from primarily testing ill, hospitalized patients and potential ill healthcare workers to focus more on some other very vulnerable populations," said Ball.

The state will also rely on out-of-state laboratories to assist with the testing. The state also has 16 points of care tests that are currently in every public health district in the state.

The task force says testing is just one part of the response, and they attempt to scale contact tracing with testing.

"We're ramping up to nearly 500 [tracers]," said Governor Brad Little.

The three elements to contact tracing involve identifying the infected individual, then finding those who've been in close contact, and the outer sphere is monitoring all of the individuals.

"Right now, we have multiple things that are underway; we've created a workgroup of folks who've created a contact tracing strategy, similar to the testing strategy that lays out that road map if you will for how we increase the capacity," said Shaw-Tulloch.

Dr. Ball at the press conference says they're recommending limited use of antibody testing since it only shows who has been exposed in the past, but it does not guarantee they will be protected from reinfection.