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Idaho still faces coronavirus testing shortages but could see massive increases soon

The co-chair of the state testing task force said Idaho is leading an effort that could increase the testing capacity by 1,000 to 4,000 tests per day.

BOISE, Idaho — More than 180,000 thousand people in Idaho have been tested for COVID-19, according to Idaho's Division of Public Health. That's a little more than 10% of the state's population. 

However, the chief medical officer for St. Luke’s, Dr. Jim Souza, tells KTVB the state is still facing a statewide shortage of testing supplies. A handful of organizations here in Idaho are working to add more testing for more people.

“This effort would be a joint collaboration,” Dr. Souza said.

The state is leading this testing effort that will include St. Luke's, St. Alphonsus, Boise State University, and Veterans Affairs.

“This would increase our testing capacity, my understanding by up to 1,000 to 4,000 additional tests per day," he said.

This would address a gap for extra testing capacity for students returning to schools, long term care facilities and large employers. Souza said all the parties are at the table working out the logistics, but didn’t have a timeline on when this could start.

Souza also said there is a lag in getting results back when the tests are sent out to a national reference lab like Quest Diagnostics. It could take up to seven days to get the result back.

“Those are national reference laboratories or regional ones and because of the surge in virus activity and testing activity around the country, they're just being overwhelmed and dealing with their own backlogs,” Souza said. “We recognize that's not great and that's part of the reason we're going to increase our own internal capacity.”

Souza is referring to a plan that St. Luke's is working on. The hospital network is planning on adding more testing devices that would increase their own testing capacity by about 100%.

“Our intention would be to further expand testing to other folks, and potentially to those folks with symptoms who are presenting to outpatient clinics,” Souza said.

According to the state’s division of public health, the number of tests administered per week is starting to decline. The state’s website shows for the week of July 5 through 11, 26,205 tests were completed.

The following week, that number dipped to 23,419. The week after dipped even more, with the state’s website was showing that 17,746 tests were taken. This information was published on the state’s coronavirus website on Thursday, but it had been removed on Friday.

Dr. Souza said the drop in tests performed could be due to three different things. Hospitals in the Treasure Valley have reduced the number of elective surgeries they’re doing due to an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“We've been doing testing in advance of elective surgeries,” Souza said. “So, to the degree, we've had to back off on surgeries, those tests are no longer happening.”

The drop could also be attributed to the long wait time to get the results back for some Idahoans.

“People are recognizing ‘wow, if I can't get my test result for a whole week why am I getting tested,’” he said.

Another reason could also be due to a drop in the number of infections though.

“The masking requirements are starting to bear fruit,” Souza said. “Wearing masks prevents infections, wearing masks prevents hospitalizations, and wearing masks prevents deaths. So, we think we may be starting to see the impact of that.”

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