Currently, we are testing about 200 patient samples in our lab each day, using US Food and Drug Administration-approved manual and semi-automated testing systems. This has been a significant upgrade from the solely-manual testing that had been provided by the CDC, which allowed us to test about 60 individuals a day.
Semi-automated testing lets a technician inoculate a specimen taken from the nostril of a patient into a cartridge, which is then placed in a console for automatic incubation and analysis (the cartridge is something like a 1970’s 8-track tape that snaps into the console like it’s an 8-track player). This enables a “batch diagnosis” of several specimens every two and a half hours. When we begin operating at full capacity, over 2,000 patients a day will be tested, but we aren’t quite there yet.
Northwell, for example, is working with GenMark Diagnostics, one of the first companies to get their semi-automated platform online and which received emergency use authorization from the FDA last week. But so are the other labs across the country, causing a major funnel block during a critical time.
We need to have patience.
With the limited supplies, health care providers have needed to prioritize testing the sickest patients. Of course, there are exceptions, and we have also prioritized for infection-control needs and for monitoring exposure — especially for patient populations within hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and also for managing health care workers’ exposure to the virus.
As a country, we started late, but the full-court press is on to alleviate the effects of our delay. We’re not doing enough testing because there are not enough tests out there yet.
So where are they?
Each test kit that comes off the manufacturing line has to be quality checked before it hits the marketplace. You can only rush that process so much before risking manufacturing accuracy and testing efficacy.
Who gets tested? Testing only the sickest people has caused some panic among people who think they may have Covid-19. It’s not feasible, at this point, for someone who has no symptoms but thinks they may have been in contact with an infected person to be tested. We need to focus on those who are presenting symptoms of the virus.
I applaud these efforts and any efforts we can make as a nation and as a health care system to fast-track testing, epidemiologic surveillance and care. My fellow colleagues across the nation’s health systems are doing everything and anything they can to speed accurate testing to the general public as soon as feasibly possible under our current circumstances.
Testing over the next couple of weeks is going to ramp up substantially, and you’re going to see a tenfold increase in the ability to do testing throughout the country. And in another couple of weeks after that, you’ll see a hundredfold increase.
Once we get there, then we will be meeting the demand. We’ll get to the point soon where we will be testing for this virus just the same way we would test for any other flu virus.
Source : Nbcnewyork