If you get tested for COVID-19 through the Sedgwick County Health Department, you can now find out your results on a website instead of waiting for a phone call or letter.
The county created a secure website for people to retrieve their results about five days after a test. The new service began Tuesday.
“It should really cut down on the amount of time it takes for people to get their information, particularly those folks that have negative results,” said Deputy County Manager Tim Kaufman.
Health officials blame a surge in new COVID-19 cases since June for recent delays in notifying people of results. Usually, disease investigators will call people who test positive within 24 hours of receiving lab reports. That has stretched to 48 hours or beyond in some cases.
In addition, labs that process coronavirus samples are also backlogged, which creates another delay in getting lab reports back to the health department.
Notifications often take longer for people who test negative due to staffing shortages. Identifying positive cases is more urgent, says County Health Director Adrienne Byrne.
“We’ve got to make sure that the person who is symptomatic is staying home, and is not out spreading,” Byrne said.
The daily number of negative cases grew substantially over the past few months as the county increased its coronavirus testing at its drive-thru location and began offering mobile testing opportunities throughout the area. Kaufman says posting results online should help.
“As we see, 90% of the results we are getting back are negative, and so those are going to be hopefully self-retrieved by almost everybody,” Kaufman said.
Health staff will monitor the website, and continue to call people who test positive.
The website login information is provided after a test is completed. If results come back positive, additional information is provided about quarantine, as well as the next steps to manage the disease.
“After a certain period of time, if they haven’t picked up their results, even if they are negative, we’ll make a phone call and let them know,” Kaufman said. “There are some people who may not be comfortable with this technology, so we’ll still make phone calls to folks that need that information.”
Kaufman says shifting to technology not only helps get results faster, it also frees up health workers to focus on managing positive cases. The county recently outsourced contact tracing to the state health department because it couldn’t keep up with the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
"So we don’t have to generate as many phone calls, especially those negative phone calls," Kaufman said. "We still want to talk to everybody who has a positive result, but this will really cut down on the amount of calls we need to make."
The health department is still trying to fill more than 100 jobs related to its COVID-19 response efforts. The department received approval in May to add 53 health workers. So far, only 35 people were hired, with 18 others near the end of the process.
Byrne says it’s been tough to find people willing to work on the county’s coronavirus testing.
"Nursing staff, medical staff have been one of the areas that’s been a struggle," she said. "Not everybody wants to work on the sampling team."
The health department also received approval last month to hire 115 people on a temporary basis. Byrne says 14 of those jobs will be posted this week, and a local staffing agency will likely fill the rest of the positions.
She plans to expand the mobile testing program by the end of the month. Two teams will be available to offer testing throughout the county every day, instead of the limited schedule in place now.