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Now Limited To KDHE, Coronavirus Testing Could Expand To Local Health Providers

U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Wikipedia
CDC rRT-PCR test kit for COVID-19

Testing for the coronavirus in Kansas has so far been done at the state level, but health leaders say that could change in a few weeks.

Currently if someone is at risk of coronavirus infection, local health providers would collect respiratory or blood samples and send them to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) labs.

Results generally come back within 4-6 hours. Positive cases are considered “presumptive positive,” and are then sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further testing and confirmation. No further testing is needed for negative results.

KDHE Secretary Lee Norman says the state labs are processing about 40 tests a week, and have the capacity to do up to 60.

"We’re able to stay ahead of the demand right now," he says. Norman spoke during a news conference with doctors from The University of Kansas Health System Monday.

The state's first case of coronavirus has been identified and admitted to the KU hospital. The patient is a woman under 50 from Johnson County near Kansas City who recently traveled to the northeast U.S.

Norman says testing is expected to move to local health systems in the next month once commercially produced test kits become available.

“This will keep testing closer to home, and might be faster,” Norman says.

Sedgwick County Health Director Adrienne Byrne says residents remain at low risk for coronavirus, and as of Monday, there were no persons under investigation for the virus. She says if test results come back positive, the person will need to follow protocols to prevent the virus from spreading.

“If they were really ill, then they would be hospitalized and then if not, they would be isolated in their home and they would be monitoring their symptoms in case their illness increased or got worse,” Byrne says.

There is no treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Byrne says patients are typically treated for their symptoms — like shortness of breath, fever or coughing — to keep them comfortable.

Byrne says she recently added 20 staff members to the health department’s incident command system to prepare for the coronavirus threat. So far, there is no budget impact to the Sedgwick County Health Department. She says preliminary plans are in place should the virus spread and the department needs to hire additional staff.

“Once we get a case, and we will, then things are going to ramp up because then we will need more people to follow through with contact investigations,” Byrne says.

Because COVID-19 is reportable disease, state and local health agencies are required to track the spread through contact tracing and interviews.

Congress approved $8.3 billion in emergency funding for the coronavirus threat last week. Norman expects Kansas to receive $4 to $6 million.

“KDHE is spending about $200,000 a month right now, and that’s only with one positive case,” Norman says.

Norman says the state is monitoring about 80 people around the state as possible coronavirus cases.

Local hospitals prepare

Ascension Via Christi says its infection control specialists are in “year-round” contact with the CDC and other health agencies and will update its measures if needed.

Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW
Jeremy Buoy sits at one of the screening sites visitors must stop by before entering Wesley Medical Center.

On Monday, Wesley Healthcare in Wichita began screening all visitors in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. Visitors will be asked the same questions about their symptoms, travel history and contact with individuals who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Wesley Medical Center at Central and Hillside has limited access to 4 entrances, down from 57; at night, it’s down to 2. The new guidelines have slowed visitor traffic, says Wesley president and CEO Bill Voloch.

“If you don’t have to come to the hospital, don’t come to the hospital.”

Any visitor or patient who answers yes to the screener questions will receive a face mask and will be taken to a designated area in the emergency department for further evaluation, explains Chief Medical Officer Lowell Ebersole, and possible testing.

So far no one at Wesley has tested positive for the virus; two patients required additional evaluation but later tested negative.

Ebersole says the symptoms of COVID-19 are consistent with other common illnesses, such as influenza and bronchitis.

“Really the protocol with COVID-19 patients is to rule out everything else that’s common first and then to consider in those appropriate, high-risk patients, testing for COVID-19,” he says.

Wesley has also cancelled all large staff meetings and business-related travel, is limiting volunteers to only non-clinical work, and is encouraging staff not to travel out of the U.S. for at least 30 days.

The new guidelines are being implemented throughout Wesley's parent company, Hospital Corporation of America.

“They’ve also stocked us with plenty of supplies to take care of these patients when they get here,” Voloch says, “because we’re pretty sure they will get here at some point.”

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.
Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.