NC coronavirus numbers as of March 16
- 38 known cases (and 33 cases in SC)
- No confirmed community spread (but nobody thinks it doesn’t exist)
- One hospitalization
- 369 people have been tested by the state (unknown number tested by non-state labs)
- State currently has capacity for 1,300 more tests (unknown non-state capacity, but reportedly much higher)
Here’s the latest on the coronavirus testing situation in NC
Currently, there are two ways to get a test:
- A doctor decides you should have one and orders it from a commercial lab like LabCorp or from a hospital (UNC/Atrium/Novant) that has in-house testing capacity. These are “non-state” tests.
- Fever of at least 100.4 + negative flu result + cough or shortness of breath = you quality for a state lab test BUT a doctor still has to contact the county health department and get their permission AND we’re hearing about many cases where that permission is not being given due to scarce supply of state test kits.
The immediate goal is expand testing capacity to the point where EVERYONE who has fever + negative flu test + cough can get tested.
To see why that’s not currently happening, it helps to understand how the CDC supply chain works:
- CDC sends test kits to the state
- State distributes to counties
- Counties release on a case-by-case basis as doctors call in
- CDC initially prioritized shipments to states that are getting slammed by coronavirus like WA and CA and NY, with states like NC only getting a small sliver.
- Some counties are (reportedly) reluctant to release any test kits unless the patient has had direct contact with a COVID case – even if they meet the criteria of fever + negative flu test + cough. They are holding back for cases in which there has been direct contact with a COVID case out of a concern of lack of available tests and the need to prioritize. Some of this may have also been caused by confusion about the eligibility criteria, but fortunately the state COVID hotline – which had been overwhelmed – got extra capacity added today.
But there’s no question that some people who need to be tested have been turned away. Fixing that is the immediate priority.
To be clear: We need to very quickly get to a point where everyone with fever + negative flu test + cough can get tested.
So what are we doing to expand capacity?
- Getting more test kits from the CDC
- Partnering with LabCorp and other private vendors (so we’re not as dependent on the CDC for test kits)
- Partnering with UNC Health Care, which just got federal approval to start testing today and is already setting up its first drive-thru testing center in Henderson County
- Several non-state health care providers are expanding their own testing abilities, like Novant, Atrium, Tryon Medical Partners (which just found one of our state’s 38 cases), and a clinic in Asheville. (If you know of more, please let me know! Tomorrow I’ll publish a comprehensive list.)
It’s hard to get a state lab test because they are being strictly rationed but the immediate goal is to have enough testing capacity to make sure that everyone who has a fever + negative flu test + cough can get tested.