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Sedgwick County Expands COVID-19 Testing To Better Gauge Community Health

Fernando Salazar
Quincy Maxwell, a Grace Med medical assistant, takes a sample of blood from a patient during a drive-though testing site at 11th and Broadway in Wichita, Kansas.

Sedgwick County is using three strategies for COVID-19 testing to get a better sense of disease spread in the community.

The county opened up its free testing to people who don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms, began a random testing program and created a mobile testing unit to reach vulnerable populations.


Until now, the county health department, working under guidelines set by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), used strict criteria to determine who was eligible for an appointment for testing.

At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, there were not enough testing kits available statewide, so KDHE limited testing to those with risk factors such as people over 60, those with an underlying health condition or anyone who traveled internationally or from U.S. coronavirus hotspots.

By mid-April, as backorders of testing kits arrived, KDHE expanded the criteria to allow people to be tested if they had a fever and at least two other COVID-19 symptoms. There were no restrictions on age or underlying health issues.

A week later, another criteria revision allowed testing for anyone who had at least two symptoms. The Sedgwick County Health Department used that guideline to determine eligibility until last Thursday when it opened up testing for the first time to asymptomatic people.

Deputy County Manager Tim Kaufman says people with COVID-19 symptoms will still have priority for scheduling testing appointments, but there is enough capacity for others to be tested now too.

He says about 25% of daily testing appointments will be reserved for people who don’t have any symptoms.

“If it turns out in a few days we don’t see a change in the demand for symptomatic slots, and the demand for asymptomatic increases, we could increase that volume as well,” Kaufman says.

People who want to get tested still need to go through the 211 screening line to get an appointment. The county health department operates a drive-thru testing site at its West Central location in Wichita.

Results come back in about three to four days, and show whether a person has a current infection. This is not an antibody test.

The county recommends that healthcare workers, first responders, law enforcement, detention facility workers, direct support professionals and people who work in residential living facilities get tested weekly.

As of last week, Sedgwick County had nearly 12,000 COVID-19 testing kits available and expected supplies to be replenished as used.

Since March, more than 17,000 people have been tested in Sedgwick County. KDHE lists the county’s testing rate is 29.8 per 1,000 population. In comparison, Johnson County’s rate is 43 per 1,000; Shawnee is at 48.8 and Wyandotte is at 57.5.

The county’s decision to expand testing to asymptomatic people came days after a nonprofit health clinic wrapped up several weeks of drive-thru testing in northeast Wichita. The testing was free to anyone who wanted to be tested, regardless of symptoms. With no appointments necessary, the testing site reached capacity on most days and showed high demand for the service.

Kaufman says Sedgwick County has the capacity to do up to 600 tests a day, but generally schedules about 150 a day. At the beginning of May, the county took samples from more than 100 people on several days, but by the end of the month, only a few dozen were tested.

Credit File / U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Wikipedia
U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Wikipedia

Random Sample Testing

Beginning this week, the Sedgwick County Health Department is partnering with a call center to recruit 1,600 randomly selected residents for a COVID-19 test sample. The county is looking for people to be tested next week, June 18, 19, or 20, regardless of symptoms.

The testing will identify residents with active coronavirus infection on the day the nasopharyngeal (NP or nose) swab was collected. The tests will not determine whether a person was previously infected with the virus and has recovered.

The county says testing a random sample of residents will help determine the true amount of COVID-19 in the community.

The second round of random sampling is planned for mid-July. The health department will compare test results of the two studies to determine if the spread of coronavirus across the county has changed.

Mobile Testing

Sedgwick County is preparing to launch a mobile coronavirus testing program to expand when and where people can get tested. Results from this testing will also provide more data to track COVID-19 spread.

Deputy County Manager Tim Kaufman says staff will soon take testing equipment to communities that have low coronavirus testing rates or areas where people have transportation issues.

“We’ll be able to do some mobile testing every week. So we’ll take the testing to the communities,” Kaufman says.

The county has not yet released a schedule of mobile testing locations. Last month, county commissioners approved up to $250,000 in funding for a vehicle, staff and testing supplies/equipment for the mobile testing program.

The health department is currently hiring 47 people to support COVID-19 response efforts such as the mobile testing program and contact tracing.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.