Gov. Ralph Northam has established a testing working group as Virginia struggles to ramp up testing to levels needed to address the COVID-19 crisis.
The group will “make sure all of Virginia's public and private testing efforts are coordinated and pulling in the same direction,” Northam said during a Monday press conference.
The group will include representatives from the state hospital association, long-term care facilities, emergency room physicians, private labs, free clinics and state health and emergency management officials.
“This group will make sure we have the testing capabilities and supplies we need as we move forward into the summer and fall,” Northam said.
The work group will be focused on three things:
Making sure Virginia can expand test sites and testing criteria.
Increasing testing volume and timeliness.
Addressing the factors that limit testing, such as getting testing supplies.
“These are all critical components — testing isn’t just about testing itself,” Northam said. “Labs might be able to run tests, but until doctors have enough swabs to do the tests and we have enough supplies to safely transport the tests, we cannot meet the need for testing.”
Virginia has recorded 56,735 tests for COVID-19 over the past six weeks, but the state has yet to show testing at a level that would suggest health officials have a clear sense of how many people have the coronavirus.
Both the governor and Daniel Carey, the state's health secretary, again stressed Monday that thousands of additional tests need to be added to the roughly 2,500 tests the state is currently recording daily.
“Between our state lab, the private labs and the universities and health care systems, we are steadily increasing our testing capacity in Virginia,” Northam said.
Carey added that the biggest challenge now involves sharing information between the various groups involved in testing.
“To get to the thousands more that we need, we need that added coordination” of the working group, Carey said.
The working group will be responsible for making sure that everyone knows where they fit in a statewide testing plan, said Dr. Karen Remley, one of the leaders of the new working group and a former state health commissioner.
“Now that we have an opportunity to take a breath and coordinate these efforts, we will be able to ensure that people who need to get tested because of their health conditions and other priorities get tested first, but we can also open up to more communities, more people,” Remley said.
And the federal government will play an important role in enabling more testing, Northam said, noting that governors, labs and health care systems have literally been competing for the same supply of reagents and swabs, just as they’ve done for personal protective equipment (PPE), all with limited national guidance.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday that it will be sending teams to each state to help with testing of vulnerable populations, and it’s giving more flexibility to the state regarding testing and supplies.
“This additional support will be very helpful,” Northam said. “This is a team effort. The combination of PPE (personal protective equipment) and testing and supplies — any help that we can get from the national level — and guidance, not just to obtain those resources, but also how to disperse those to the states, is going to be very helpful going forward.”