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Lack of supplies slows COVID-19 testing in Jackson County

A nationwide lack of supplies is causing delays in how quickly COVID-19 test results come back, jeopardizing the ability of Jackson County and the rest of Oregon to track and help contain the spread of the virus.

“We’re seeing long delays getting test results back. We don’t want to wait 7-10 days,” said Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County medical director.

Oregon took action early to slow the spread of the virus. While COVID-19 numbers are rising amid a phased reopening, the state so far hasn’t seen the types of spikes hitting Texas, Florida and Arizona, Gov. Kate Brown said this week.

While Oregon has fewer than 12,500 cases, Arizona has more than 123,000 cases, Texas has exceeded 264,000 cases, and Florida has topped 278,000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Oregon has become a victim of its own success relative to other states as testing supplies are diverted to harder-hit parts of the nation, Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said this week.

“We fall out of the prioritization list based solely on how much disease there is, because we’re one of the lowest infection rate states in the country,” Allen said. “We’re testing very close to our capacity, and that capacity is being diminished by these supply chain issues.”

During the past several weeks, Allen said, the state has been averaging 30,000 to 35,000 tests per week.

“But the fact of the matter is, supply chain issues are creeping back into the testing landscape,” he said.

Allen and Shames said a wide spectrum of supplies are in short supply.

Testing requires adequate stockpiles of swabs of the appropriate types, plus transport materials for sending swabs to labs. It creates demand for pipettes, the small tubes used in laboratories to carry liquids, as well as reagents, substances that trigger a reaction when the COVID-19 virus is in a test sample.

Laboratories can see backlogs as the number of incoming test samples overwhelms the number of testing machines they have and their supplies on hand. If any single type of item is in short supply in the testing chain, that can create bottlenecks, slowing the whole process.

“There are lots of ways you can get a restriction on supplies. There are not enough testing materials nationally. We just don’t have enough,” Shames said.

Asante is among the local health care organizations offering COVID-19 testing.

Asante can run in-house testing quickly if it has supplies like reagent available. It’s prioritizing in-house testing for certain patients, including people scheduled for surgery. Those results are available within one to four days, said Lauren Van Sickle, senior public relations specialist for Asante.

Other tests that are sent out for processing by a commercial lab have been taking five to seven days to get results, she said.

Brown said Oregon has asked the federal government for additional supplies and funding to help overcome testing bottlenecks.

The state needs to test more extensively and rapidly in Oregon communities that are facing outbreaks, she said.

The entire globe is facing a supply shortage during the pandemic due to the unprecedented level of testing.

Previously, the most-used type of molecular test in the world was for the sexually transmitted infections gonorrhea and chlamydia, with about 40 million test kits used in a whole year. The world is now using about 20 million COVID-19 tests per month, the Associated Press reported July 11.

Although supplies are running low and wait times for results can be long, Shames said, people should still contact their medical providers if they feel ill with COVID-19-like symptoms. Medical providers can refer patients for testing.

People with symptoms should isolate themselves from others, he said.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, a new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

COVID-19 testing is available for everyone regardless of immigration or status.

Current health centers or health systems providing testing for those that meet the criteria for testing in Jackson County are:

  • Providence — Services are available to everyone. If you are an established Providence patient, contact your medical provider. If you are a new patient, call 541-732-7700. If you are not an established patient, call Stewart Meadows Urgent Care at 541-732-9362. You can also visit the Providence website at coronavirus.providence.org.
  • Asante — Services are available to everyone. Call your medical provider first, or call the Asante COVID-19 hotline at 541-789-2813. You can also visit www.treatment.asante.org/.
  • La Clinica — Testing is available for current La Clinica patients, anyone in the community who is uninsured, has no other doctor, or anyone who speaks Spanish only. Call 541-535-6239 to talk with a nurse.
  • Valley Immediate Care — Services are available to everyone. Valley Immediate Care is open seven days a week. Its main phone number is 541-734-9030.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

file photoA medical worker holds a specimen March 14 at Asante’s drive through testing center near South Medford’s Fred Meyer.