Thursday, May 7, 2020

Arizona Counties Report Major Difficulties in Accessing COVID-19 Tests

Posted By on Thu, May 7, 2020 at 2:30 PM

click to enlarge Health workers dressed in personal protective equipment handle a coronavirus test at a drive-through testing station in Stamford, Connecticut. (John Moore/Getty Images) - PROPUBLICA
  • ProPublica
  • Health workers dressed in personal protective equipment handle a coronavirus test at a drive-through testing station in Stamford, Connecticut. (John Moore/Getty Images)


Counties throughout Arizona aren’t receiving enough COVID-19 tests to keep up with Gov. Doug Ducey’s recently announced “testing blitz,” according to a memo from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.


Written to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Huckelberry’s memo states that Arizona has tapped Banner University Medical and Walgreens to conduct the tests at the Banner North Hills Facility on Ina Road and the Walgreens at Broadway Boulevard and Houghton Road.


According to Huckelberry, Banner leadership said the North Hills facility can only conduct up to 300 tests in a single day, a far lesser number than what would reasonably contribute to the statewide goal estimated by the governor. Huckelberry said the county has “no idea how the volume of testing desired will be accomplished at these two facilities” and that only 588 tests were administered last Saturday.

Governor Doug Ducey announced his statewide testing effort on April 27 with the goal of administering 30,000 to 60,000 COVID-19 tests across the state over the course of three consecutive weekends. The first one was this past Saturday, May 2 and two more are scheduled for May 9 and 16.


This would be a definite improvement on the state of coronavirus testing in Arizona, but many counties reported as recently as last week that they were not equipped to participate in such an event, and most never received prior notice about a testing blitz at all.


Huckelberry asked the County Supervisors Association of Arizona to survey all 15 county public health agencies to see if Pima’s lack of testing supplies from the state was being experienced elsewhere. Thirteen of the 15 counties that responded, most of them rural, showed that the state’s distribution of testing materials and personal protective equipment has ranged from “extremely problematic” to “adequate.”


Coconino County, which is home to Flagstaff, Arizona’s third-largest city, is only able to order 50 tests per week from the Department of Health Services. Antibody tests are out of the question for them at this point, as with many other counties.


Navajo County reported receiving only 20 to 30 tests every three to four weeks.


All counties reported that in the beginning phases of COVID-19 testing, test results were very slow and sometimes took more than two weeks. Luckily, all of them have seen a lot of improvement in turnaround time since then.


“The availability of test kits is beginning to improve; however, it is only improving due to our

contracting with private providers,” Huckelberry said in his memo. “The number of test kits we have received from the State Health Department has been minimal.”


The test kits have been prioritized for use in places with known COVID-19 outbreaks, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Huckelberry said these “hot spots” now span more than 10 such facilities.

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