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Alabama Sees Coronavirus Test Demand Rising as Numbers Grow

Early in the pandemic, supplying and and restocking testing supplies was a concern, with tests often reserved for those with clear symptoms of the virus. Now there are enough kits and people to withdraw specimens from test subjects in pursuit of peace of mind.

by Ben Nunnally, The Anniston Star, Ala. / July 28, 2020
TNS
(TNS) - The Calhoun County Department of Public Health will host a COVID-19 test site Thursday morning at Alexandria Elementary School, another opportunity for free testing while positive cases continue to climb.
 
COVID-19 testing will be held Thursday from 7-11 a.m. at Alexandria Elementary School, 2525 Alexandria-Wellington Road. No appointment is required, but those attending must meet Alabama Department of Public Health testing criteria. Call the Calhoun County Department of Public Health at 256-237-7523 for more information.
 
With confirmed cases of the coronavirus rising in the county and state, demand for testing has also ramped up, with recent test sites administered by the city of Anniston and Regional Medical Center reaching record numbers. According to Michael Barton, director of the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency, another 390 people were tested Thursday at Harvest Church of God, breaking for the third time the county record for tests at a single event, this time by 80 people.
 
Early in the pandemic, supplying and and restocking testing supplies was a concern, with tests often reserved for those with clear symptoms of the virus. Now there are enough collection kits and people to withdraw specimens from would-be test subjects on pursuit of peace of mind, but there’s still a bottleneck:
 
Tests take time to run through a lab, and people may spend days wondering the outcome.
 
“Our goal at this point is to test at least 2 percent of the population each month,” said Dr. Karen Landers, assistant health officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health. “The challenge is that while more people need to be tested and want to be tested as we see more community transmission, manpower is an issue, not only for the state health department but commercial and clinical facilities.”
 
Testing has evolved over the months since March, when the pandemic began in the United States; some methods have been debunked and tossed aside. A finger-prick to check blood for antibodies has its uses, but Landers said it’s not useful at all for COVID-19 screenings.
 
There are rapid-test machines, too, that can turn results around anywhere from a few hours to 15 minutes after collecting a specimen; some of those machines exist in Calhoun County. Landers mentioned two rapid tests, one for antigens and another checking PCRs, polymerase chain reactions. She said they’re helpful for specific situations, but may not be as sensitive to the virus as low-speed lab tests, and may result in more false negatives.
 
“I think there will be better tests coming out,” Landers said, “but we always have to be learning more, and looking at the science.”
 
Local clinics that offer COVID-19 testing seemed Monday to bear some strain due to testing. Southern Immediate Care, a walk-in clinic just north of Anniston, has for months offered tests for the coronavirus. Calling the clinic’s main number plays a recorded message about high call volume due to COVID-19, with instructions for scheduling a physician appointment to discuss testing.
 
“In most cases results are available the same day,” the recording says, “but tests in the afternoon or evening may be available the next day.”
 
On another menu, the recording indicates that results may take up to 24 hours to be processed.
 
“If it has been more than 24 hours, please accept our apology that you have not received it yet,” the recording says.
 
Attempts to reach representatives for Southern Immediate Care and other local clinics were unsuccessful Monday.
 
Barton, the county EMA director, said that test result turnarounds vary from private and public labs. The state Health Department often has results ready in about five days; some of that time is spent transporting specimens and ensuring the test samples are correctly labeled and tracked. Testing machines, meanwhile, will only go as fast as they must to reach a true result.
 
In the meantime, and especially before showing symptoms of the virus, people should prepare a COVID-19 plan for themselves and family members, Barton said. That includes preparing self-isolation supplies for up to 14 days to use while awaiting test results, or during self-quarantine if a test comes back positive; securing a support system, like family members or friends who can deliver essentials to the home; and thinking ahead about where to be tested if symptoms arise.
 
Planning ahead is similar to preparing for a tornado and deciding on a safe place for family members to take shelter, or where they should meet after a house fire, he explained.
 
“Now that we have such great community spread, the likelihood has increased significantly now that you may need to be tested or could contract the virus,” Barton said. “What’s your COVID plan?”
 
Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.
 
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©2020 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.)
 
Visit The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.) at www.annistonstar.com
 
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