The Washington Department of Health will start processing tests for the new coronavirus in-state starting Friday morning, significantly reducing the time it takes for patients to receive results, state health officials said.
“This will allow us to more quickly test individuals with fever or respiratory symptoms who may be at risk for COVID-19 (the illness caused by the virus),” state health officer Kathy Lofy said at a Thursday press conference.
The state had been sending potential coronavirus samples to the Centers for Disease Control headquarters in Atlanta. It usually took at least three to five days for local medical centers to receive results from the samples, and until the results came back, patients at risk were quarantined either at home or in hospitals.
Now, results will be ready in “about a day or so,” state epidemiologist Scott Lindquist said at the Thursday press conference.
The state’s public health laboratory in Shoreline will begin testing two rounds every day, six days a week, Lindquist said. Each round includes 13 patient samples, so the lab would assess about 26 people per day, though Lindquist said that number could increase or decrease depending on need.
While every state can process samples for its own patients, Lindquist said Washington is most likely one of the first to do so.
State health officials have sent more than a dozen patient samples to the CDC in the last several months. They have “less than a dozen” samples waiting to be tested Friday, Lindquist said.
Because there’s no strong evidence of person-to-person contamination in the United States, Lofy said, the risk to the general public is considered low. She added that Washington is still in the “containment phase.”
“But given the fact that the virus is now spreading in several countries, we do believe it’s very likely that we will see spread of the virus here in Washington at some time in the future,” she added. “If the virus starts spreading in Washington, we might consider implementing certain measures.”
This could include closing schools, canceling large public events and encouraging employers to let their employees work from home, she said.
State officials also said health care facilities should start planning to provide services to more patients than usual, such as increasing staffing numbers and stocking up on supplies and protective equipment.
“This may be concerning” Lofy said, “but there’s really no need to panic. We’re still not seeing a significant spread here in the U.S.”