State provides rapid COVID-19 testing machines to hospitals

Posted 4/23/20

Powell Valley Healthcare is better positioned to provide testing for COVID-19, recently receiving a new machine from the state that can return results in 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the Abbott ID NOW …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

State provides rapid COVID-19 testing machines to hospitals


Powell Valley Healthcare is better positioned to provide testing for COVID-19, recently receiving a new machine from the state that can return results in 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the Abbott ID NOW machines require test kits, which include reagents, and PVHC received only enough kits (seven) for the initial training.

“Right now there’s just enough tests for people to be proficient on using the machine,” said Michelle Petrich, infection prevention and employee health nurse for PVHC.

In the meantime, although rapid testing supplies are limited and testing at the State Health Laboratory has been restricted, standard COVID-19 testing remains available through private labs.

“There is no restriction on tests that your healthcare provider sends to private laboratories,” Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin said Tuesday on Facebook. “We have encouraged both hospitals to send tests to private laboratories.”

That process takes days rather than minutes.

The reagents used in the rapid test kits are a mixture of enzymes, probes, and primers created to match the new coronavirus’s genome — and there’s a worldwide shortage of them.

Only a few months have passed since enough of the virus’ genome was sequenced and reagents designed; it’s going to take time to manufacture them. Wyoming and Park County aren’t likely to be a priority for test kits until demand begins to drop in areas with widespread cases of the new coronavirus, such as New York City.

“They are distributed based on need,” explained Alysia Kampbell, director of laboratory services at PVHC.

The Abbott ID NOW machines provided to PVHC and Cody Regional Health were among a batch of 15 that the Wyoming Department of Health received from the federal government.

The machines for the Powell and Cody hospitals were flown to Yellowstone Regional Airport on April 14 by the Cowboy State Volunteers. They’re a group of pilots who provide support for search and rescue operations, disaster relief and organ transplants.

Joe Feiler of Casper and Dallas Chopping flew Feiler’s Cessna 177 Cardinal to deliver the supplies to both Cody and Thermopolis.

“Wyoming has a well-deserved reputation for helping our neighbors in times of trouble,” said Cowboy State Volunteers President Ken Johnston, noting that pilots similarly delivered food, medicine and aid to snowbound people across the state during the infamous “Blizzard of 1949.” The current volunteers are aiming to continue that tradition, Johnston said.

A total of 10 Abbott machines were delivered on April 14; another was deployed in Cheyenne, two more stayed with the Department of Health “to be available for epidemiological investigations and response,” said Kim Deti, a spokeswoman for the department, while the placement of another has yet to be determined.

The Department of Health picked destinations for the machines based on each facility’s experience with working with the Abbott ID NOW platform and whether it had access to another rapid COVID-19 test, along with trying to distribute them across the state, Deti said. It’s being left up to the medical facilities as to how they want to use the rapid tests.

As test cartridges become available at PVHC, the criteria by which the hospital will rapid-test someone for the virus will remain narrow.

A patient’s individual circumstances are a factor in the decision to use the scarce tests, but broadly speaking, a person who has been in contact with someone who has the virus or shows symptoms consistent with COVID-19 — namely fever, cough and shortness of breath — would most likely be tested.

However, that patient would also need to not test positive for another illness. As an example of this, Petrich said someone with a fever might also have a sore throat, in which case the patient might be tested for streptococcus. If the test is positive for one of those illnesses, the patient probably wouldn’t be tested for coronavirus. This would be true also if the patient tested positive for the seasonal flu.

“It’s possible someone could be positive for two viruses, but it’s not likely,” Petrich said, adding there are a lot of unknowns that remain with this virus so information can change. She also noted as we move out of flu season, it’s becoming less likely a symptomatic patient has the seasonal flu.

The Abbott machine can only do three tests per hour, and tests would still need to be scheduled.

When more test kits come in, the hospital will be able to loosen that criteria to some degree, but PVHC is not likely to see enough of the kits for everyone in the county to get tested. By the time the reagents become that widely available in Park County, it’s unlikely such extensive population testing would be beneficial.

While there are still limitations, Petrich said the machines are helping PVHC deal with the crisis, and overall she said things are going well for the provider in this difficult time.

“I feel we have a handle on things,” she said.