NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A state health department official says shortages related to COVID-19 testing materials are linked to what is occurring in some other southern states and across the U.S.
Dr. Joseph Kanter, Assistant State Health Officer at the Louisiana Department of Health discussed the impacts being felt in Louisiana.
“We’re feeling the effects here in Louisiana unfortunately in various testing platforms going through periodic shortages of the reagents or devices or different parts of the testing machinery, we feel that here and that’s what happened the past couple of days in the New Orleans site,” said Kanter.
Recently, the city of New Orleans has been forced to limit the number of free coronavirus tests administered at community sites to 150 instead of 250 which had been available weeks ago.
Beau Tidwell is communications director for New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell.
“We do want to make sure that we are reaching out to people who are symptomatic. Whatever resources that you can tap into, we want to make sure that we’re making all those available on the city end, and also clinics, hospitals, your doctors, whatever,” said Tidwell.
Kanter was asked about the city having to reduce the number of tests available at the testing sites.
“It is concerning, you know, those testing sites are a partnership between city of New Orleans, Louisiana Department of Health and local hospitals as well, and what we’re seeing now is limitations in various testing supplies or testing platforms across the country,” said Kanter.
Kanter called the supply issues “episodic” shortages.
“And we see rolling shortages occasionally from platform-to-platform, so for example, one of the hospitals in the New Orleans area had one of their machines go down, another hospital in the New Orleans area is expecting shortages of a reagent that is necessary to run the tests,” Kanter stated.
Reagents are chemicals involved in the testing process.
Kanter said commercial labs are experiencing issues as well.
“Quest which is a large send-out laboratory that a lot of tests get sent to is having long turnaround times, sometimes upwards of 10, 12 days even, because of the demand that they are seeing across the country. All of that comes together to affect, you know, how Louisianians are able to access tests,” said Kanter.
But he is confident Louisiana is not at risk of having to stop testing for the deadly virus.
“No, I don’t think testing will be halted. I think it might need to be targeted in a better way and that’s a conversation that’s ongoing,” said Kanter. “Been over 800,000 tests done in Louisiana up until this point, and that will continue, we’re actually doing well in terms of how much of our population we’ve been testing.”
And Kanter says people who cannot get tested right away who think they have the virus or may have been exposed to someone with it should still quarantine for 14 days. Additionally, he said the virus replicates in the body and may not be detectable at the time someone takes a test.
“So, if I was exposed today and I had tested in a couple of days and I was negative I could easily still be positive and just not yet detectable and my test might be positive the next day or the day after that,” said Kanter. “So that’s the best message for people who are not able to access testing at the point in time that they want to is, if they’re symptomatic assume you have COVID and stay at home and do not be around and do not be around other people. If you’re getting tested because you’re concerned about an exposure you really do need to quarantine for 14 days from that point of exposure regardless of any testing.”
Kanter urges the public to remain vigilant.
“What concerns me is there is a lot of COVID out there and a lot of risk and I want people to understand that, I want people to understand how important it is to wear a mask,” said Kanter.
Members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation are working to remedy the supply issues.
Congressman and GOP House Minority Whip Steve Scalise issued the following statement:
“Throughout this pandemic, I’ve worked closely with our local hospitals and other providers to help them get the critical supplies they’ve needed to serve our communities and to try to resolve supply chain issues they have. This pandemic has shown us that we need to bring the manufacturing of critical testing and PPE supplies back to the United States from China. Our health professionals on the front line are true heroes, and I’ll continue to do everything I can to assist them as they care for and serve our community.”
And a spokesperson for Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, also released a statement on the issue:
“While the number of tests being provided to New Orleans isn’t decreasing, we are committed to ensuring that supply continues to meet the need for testing. Sen. Kennedy will keep working with health providers in New Orleans and throughout the state to ensure Louisianians have access to critical testing,” said a spokesperson for Sen. Kennedy.
Kanter says manufacturers are signaling more supplies could be in the pipeline but still demand is growing.
“We’ve gotten assurances from the companies that they do have more supplies and reagents coming down. We’ve gotten assurances from the send-out labs, the commercial labs, for example, that they expect capacity to go up. Unfortunately, we’re in the middle of a large increase in cases across the country, particularly in the South and that does drain resources. Testing is a finite resource for us,” said Kanter.