Johnson County doctors have had limited access to COVID-19 tests so far. State officials say that should change soon

Johnson County has seen an increase in the proportion of individuals testing positive since early June. “The case numbers are going up dramatically just as they are in other places around the country that have relaxed stay-at-home orders,” said Johnson County local health officer Joseph LeMaster. “We are in a dangerous place.” File photo.

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With limited access to test kits in Kansas and Missouri, physicians in Johnson County say they’ve been operating under strict guidelines about who can get screened for coronavirus infection. But state health officials suggest the expansion of testing could be in the offing in the coming days.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman said at a press conference Monday afternoon that Kansas is now conducting 150 to 200 COVID-19 tests per day, describing the number of kits available in the state as “enough for now.”

State health officials trained staff at a drive-through mobile testing center for COVID-19 in New Rochelle, New York, last week. Kansas officials said they expect similar types of operations to be running in the state in the coming days. Photo credit Sgt. Amouris Coss, U.S. Army National Guard.

However, Norman noted that the kinds of high throughput testing operations that the Trump administration has referenced in its recent updates on the pandemic are starting to take shape in the area. The University of Kansas Hospital in Wyandotte County and Ascension Via Christi Health in Wichita have both opened such testing sites, he said.

Still, as of noon Monday, the state had only conducted 245 tests, 11 of which were positive.

Norman said the expansion of testing availability through local health systems should relieve some of the burden on state labs and increase the speed of reporting results.

“We are still going to be making sure that all the geographic regions of the state have access to coronavirus testing, but I feel like with commercial labs coming on, that will increase our reach and also help protect our inventory (both swabs and the test kits),” Norman said.

Who currently qualifies for a test, where to seek one

With a finite number of kits on hand over the past several days, doctors have had to reserve tests for people thought especially likely to have contracted the virus. These include people with a fever and the kind of dry cough associated with infection in combination with recent travel to a high-incidence area or contact with a person who has tested positive for the virus, said AdventHealth Shawnee Mission Chief Medical Officer Larry Botts.

Botts said Monday that medical facilities across the Kansas City metropolitan area have had a limited number of test kits and access to a limited number of places that can test those kits.

Botts said most of the tests done by AdventHealth Shawnee Mission have been sent to KDHE, and the hospital does not have any positive cases.

Barbara Mitchell, Johnson County’s community health division director and public information officer, said that someone who suspects they are infected with COVID-19 should check with their healthcare provider first for testing. Similar to Mitchell’s suggestion, Botts said people who suspect they have COVID-19 should check in with their primary care doctor first. While a trip to the emergency room is also an option, Botts said, unless people are experiencing a medical emergency, they should avoid the ER. Someone showing mild symptoms of COVID-19 should seek attention from a primary care doctor or visit an urgent care facility. This will help alleviate the burden on emergency room staff, and lower risk to further exposure, Botts said.

There are likely financial benefits to avoiding the ER for testing, as well. AdventHealth Shawnee Mission Communications Manager Morgan Shandler said testing for COVID-19 is being billed as a lab drawing fee. If you go to your primary care doctor and are swabbed for COVID-19, you will be billed the same way you would be if you were being tested for flu or strep throat, Shandler said. If you go to the ER, you’ll get charged with an ER visit and a lab charge, she said.