NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -The growing demand for COVID-19 testing in the city of New Orleans is palpable, but the city’s health department director said that is not the reason they are having to limit the number of tests administered per day at community sites.
“We got plenty of the materials to take a test from you. What the issue is, is that the big machines that are being used to run a lot of our community-based testing sites, they need supplies and materials, as well to run the machines,” said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, who leads the New Orleans Health Department.
Still demand remains high from the public which healthcare professionals like to see.
“This morning at our community-based site at Dillard [University] we had a hundred plus people in line when we opened at 8 o’clock and by 8:05 a.m. we had given out our 150 tickets for tests and so we were done in five minutes basically,” said Avegno. “I’m not surprised the demand for testing remains robust, even you know, higher in the past couple of weeks [than] we’d seen beforehand but the issue appears to be a national one.”
She said the large machines that can handle large volumes of coronavirus tests are located at local hospitals and are widely used around the country. Some of the chemicals used by labs in the testing process are known as reagents.
“And the manufacturer of at least one of the big machines that initially said they could meet any capacity that we have now is saying that they don’t have enough specific materials, trays to run the tests and some chemicals that are needed to be able to keep up with our demand,” said Avegno. “And as you’ve probably seen there’s been some challenges with the in-hospital capacity as well.”
Avegno says for now they will be forced to limit the community-based sites to 150 tests.
“For the foreseeable future we are going to cut the capacity. There are still clinics that have some capacity, again they’re facing the same issues,” said Avegno. “The federal standard for how much a community should test is about 4 to 5 percent of your population per month, in Orleans Parish that works out to a little over 500 tests a day, we’re currently doing 850 tests a day, so we’re still far above what the recommended standard is, we want to stay far above.”
So, some people are asked to temporarily delay seeking a coronavirus test.
“If you don’t really need a test maybe take this week off, let us get our supply chain a little bit back up to normal, save some of the tests we have for those who may be symptomatic or who may know, for instance, their roommate just tested positive,” said Avegno.
She says there also appears to be raw materials shortages.
“Most of these products are made overseas and so there still are supply chain issues with getting these products from China and other places,” said Avegno. “The other issue is that as cases surge all over the country and states that were not testing a lot now realize they do need to step up their testing that’s just putting a strain on the national testing capacity,” said Avegno.
The current situation is disappointing for Avegno.
“This is obviously something that’s incredibly concerning to us, the reason, one of the reasons New Orleans was able to flatten the curve so quickly and so well is because we were always testing at a high level and we had a really good understanding of what the virus was doing in our community. If you don’t test, you don’t know,” she said.
And hospitalizations are increasing as cases rise in the state.
“Our hospitalizations are definitely ticking up in Region 1 and other regions across the state. Our capacity is still robust, our ICUs still have plenty of beds, but we are definitely seeing an increase. Remember hospitalizations lag the surge in cases by a few weeks, so I’m worried this might be the tip of the iceberg,” Avegno further stated.