SPOKANE — Testing for the novel coronavirus is now available in Washington at the public health lab in Shoreline, shortening the turnaround time for results.
Previously, tests had to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratories in Atlanta. Turnaround times varied from three days to a week. Now, results will be as soon as same-day.
“The goal is if it’s in here in the morning, we will have the result at 5 p.m.,” state epidemiologist Scott Lindquist said Thursday at a news conference.
Fewer than a dozen Washington patients are waiting for test results for COVID-19, as the novel coronavirus is officially known, and by the week’s end, those should be completed, he said. The lab will be able to run two cycles of testing daily, six days a week, or 26 samples a day, Lindquist said.
“We are working hard to keep the virus out of Washington and keep the virus from spreading here,” Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer, said at a news conference Thursday. “We have requested that health care providers ask patients with fever or respiratory symptoms if they’ve recently traveled, and if we identify someone who is sick who may be at risk for COVID-19 that we immediately separate them from others’ symptoms and get them tested.”
There has been one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Washington state so far, and that patient was treated with an experimental drug and has fully recovered. There are 31 Washington residents who have been tested for COVID-19, with the majority of tests coming up negative. A few tests are pending.
Another 322 people are under public health supervision for COVID-19 in Washington. They are being monitored by public health officials due to their risk of having been exposed to novel coronavirus. These people either came into close contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19 or have returned from China in the last two weeks, including those in quarantine.
The CDC has opened up the eligibility for who can be tested nationwide to include people who are hospitalized with severe respiratory symptoms and no direct cause, Lofy said. This follows the news in California this week of a patient whom the CDC confirmed had not traveled to China recently or been in contact with anyone with COVID-19, yet tested positive for the virus.
If a person shows symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever, cough or difficulty breathing, and has traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan or South Korea in the last two weeks or has been in close contact to a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19, they are considered a person under investigation by CDC standards.
State health officials advised people who meet these criteria and have developed symptoms to stay home, avoid contact with others and contact their local health district and health care provider for guidance about how to get tested.
So far, however, person-to-person spread of the virus in the United States remains low, with only 15 cases reported in-country, and 45 confirmed cases of Americans who have been repatriated after contracting the virus abroad.
“We still consider the risk of COVID-19 to the general public is low, but given that the virus is now spreading in several countries, we do believe it’s very likely that we will see spread of the virus here in Washington at some time in the future,” Lofy said.
Lofy said DOH is working to prepare for potential community spread of COVID-19 as well as an increased number of cases by asking health care providers to review their preparedness plans, their ability to take in more patients and an inventory of their personal protective equipment, which is necessary to care for a person with a confirmed case.
Washington state lawmakers have prioritized funding for keeping COVID-19 at bay in recent days, too.
The state Senate voted to set aside even more money to respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak, raising to $13 million the amount connected to some aspects of the outbreak, up from the $5 million announced earlier this week in its proposed 2019-21 supplemental budget.
In a series of votes on amendments, senators approved doubling, to $10 million, the money set aside to help the state and local health districts with costs of testing, treating and quarantining suspected COVID-19 patients. Of that total, $8.6 million is set aside for local health districts to support “incident management activities” and the rest for the state Health Department to cover any agency costs that are not picked up by the federal government.
At the beginning of the week it seemed like $5 million would be “more than enough” to handle potential health agency costs, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said.
“We need to get after this and sooner is better,” said Sen. John Braun, of Centralia, the top Republican on the committee.
In a separate vote, the Senate added $3 million to an economic development account to help exporters in rural Washington who are hurt by foreign markets being closed because of the outbreak in China and other countries.
Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, said one textile producer in Cosmopolis, Washington, that does 97% of its business with Asian companies hasn’t received an order in seven weeks and has vessels stranded at sea with products that can’t be delivered.
“There are a lot of economic questions about how we’re going to weather this storm,” he said.
Unlike many proposed changes to the budget in Thursday’s debate, the two amendments passed with bipartisan support.