Testing backlog? DHEC explains decline in testing numbers

DHEC's Public Health Director said demand of tests, lab capacity, supplies factor into the smaller numbers

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — State health leaders want 500,000 South Carolinians to go through COVID-19 testing every mont, but in the last week, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) says the number of samples tested has actually gone down. 

In the last three weeks, DHEC says they have run an average of 7,000 COVID-19 testing samples per day. The state public health laboratory has the capability of testing 8,800 samples per day.

Recently, South Carolina has tested about 5% of the population, but one of the recommendations from the Senate Reopen SC Committee is to test 10% of the state’s population, which would be 500,000 tests, per months.

However, in recent days, there has been a steady decline in the number of samples tested, with the average number of tests being conducted in the last four days falling just under 5,000. On Thursday, DHEC said there were 5,672 samples tested.

Some people have also complained about the long turn-around times on their results, with some people saying it took them seven to ten days to get a result back.

DHEC Public Health Director Dr. Joan Duwve told the state’s health and environmental control board Thursday part of the lower testing numbers is due to lab capacity and shortage of supplies. 

However, she says some feedback from national pandemic coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx alerted her to another cause — fewer people showing up to be tested.

“She said ‘you think you’re doing community testing, but who’s really showing up at these testing events? People who have symptoms and people who know they’ve had an exposure.’ If I had no symptoms, am I likely to go to a testing event? The answer is no,” Dr. Duwve said.

Dr. Duwve said in order for South Carolina to continue its fight against the virus, it needs more funding from the General Assembly for personal protective equipment, testing materials, and expanded contact tracing measures.

“Our goal is to be able to do case investigation within 24 hours, and get in touch with those contacts that they have a risk and what they need to do,” Dr. Duwve said.

Even as labs across the state work on shortening the turnaround time on test results, Dr. Duwve said everyone can play a role in stopping the spread, even if they are still waiting on the call.

“Just because you tested negative today doesn’t mean that you’re not going to Five Points tonight and get infected tomorrow. I want you to be quarantining, social distancing, wearing your mask,” Dr. Duwve said.

As of Thursday, DHEC said there have been at least 103,051 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in South Carolina, with 2,089 deaths directly attributed to the virus.

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