Health district chief: Governor’s goal of 1,000 tested a day for COVID-19 currently not possible

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Nevada State Public Health Laboratory Director Dr. Mark Pandori shows us how they test samples for COVID-19. Reno Gazette Journal

The Washoe County Regional Response Team is working on expanding testing to 1,000 tests per day starting Monday — a goal that likely won’t be met due to shortages in test collection kits.  

At a press conference on Friday, Washoe County Health Officer Kevin Dick listed some of those challenges, which stem from limitations going back to state lab capacity and the testing materials needed for the test collection kits.

“We currently don’t have 1,000 collection kits available at the Health District,” Dick said.

More: Third Washoe County victim reported Friday; teen boy was youngest to die of coronavirus

He emphasized that the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory at the University of Nevada, Reno and the Southern Nevada Public Health Laboratory are both working on developing the capacity to produce more tests.

The additional staffing provided by Nevada National Guard is also a “good force multiplier” to help get testing done, according to Deputy Incident Commander Scott Stevenson, of the county’s COVID-19 Regional Response Team.

Stevenson said the team’s goal to administer 1,000 tests per day was set forth by Gov. Steve Sisolak and his Medical Advisory Team.

Adam Mayberry, spokesman for the Incident Management Team, said he will release more details on the plan to expand testing in the days to come.

Usually, an average of 240 to 250 tests are administered daily in Washoe County. Dick said he expects about 220 testing samples to be collected from individuals on Friday.

Latino community hit especially hard 

“We’re seeing a disproportionate number of people in our community that have contracted COVID-19 in the Latino community,” Dick said during the press conference.

“Many of these people are part of our essential workforces … and are in an economic position, as well, where it’s more difficult … to be able to work remotely.”

Dick said health officials are only testing symptomatic individuals who identify themselves to the Washoe County Health District or who have been tested through the healthcare system.

The goal is to expand testing to those who are asymptomatic and to the vulnerable populations in the community. That includes nursing homes, long-term healthcare facilities, healthcare workers and first responders.

“I would caution from people thinking that we’re moving immediately into mass testing, where everybody in the community who wants to get tested is going to get tested,” Dick said. “We’re developing the criteria and the framework for how we expand the testing as we move forward.”

Health officials are also looking at other opportunities to secure additional automated testing equipment as the state continues to receive federal funding.

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Dick said the number of positive cases has plateaued, which will “take us a while to come back off of and have further reductions in cases.” 

Dick said because of that plateau, health officials will continue to encourage residents to practice social distancing and to stay home.

He also said having an antigen test developed would help health officials understand how many people have been exposed to COVID-19 and have developed antigens. The hope is that more people will become immune.

“If we have more people who have been exposed and have antibodies, that reduces the potential and speed of spread in the other remaining population that hasn’t been exposed,” Dick said.

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