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Wyoming is working on producing some coronavirus testing supplies, state's top health official says
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Wyoming is working on producing some coronavirus testing supplies, state's top health official says

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Coronavirus test

Subhi Younes, a University of Mississippi Medical Center fourth-year medical student and Ph.D candidate, left, practices the proper procedure for collecting a specimen for coronavirus testing on Monday at a testing facility established at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in Jackson, Miss. 

As shortages of testing materials continue across the state and country, Wyoming’s health officials are working to make some of the supplies themselves.

As of Tuesday morning, the state’s health lab had processed 567 samples, while private labs have run at least 170. There is no backlog, said Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer and the official who oversees the lab. Roughly 300 more samples have either recently arrived or are on the way to the lab.

But the state is not testing everyone because testing materials on the provider side — the swabs and tubes used to transport the swabs — are in short supply. As of now, only a handful of groups — health care workers, people who hospitalized, people with close contact to confirmed cases, the chronically ill — are getting swabbed.

There are multiple sides to the shortages. Providers are running low on swabs and the packaging the samples are sent in. The state labs, meanwhile, have materials to actually test the materials. Harrist said Wyoming is “in pretty good shape” on the state-level supplies, but that’s also a function of the limited testing the state is currently doing.

The state lab has markedly ratcheted up its processing abilities over the past two weeks, thanks to lessons learned about efficiencies and staffing boosts from the University of Wyoming. When testing began earlier this month, the state could process only 10 samples a day. Now, that number has jumped to at least 80.

Harrist said the state is hoping to be have its own production of the tubes up and running this week, after they’ve been run through their own testing for quality control. That won’t solve the entire problem, but it’ll ease up a supply chain issue — Wyoming’s hospitals, clinics and health departments aren’t the only ones in America jockeying for more testing materials.

The shortage is “critical” in some areas, Harrist said, adding that there’s a “tremendous backlog” for providers and institutions here trying to get in more testing supplies. That’s setting aside the shortage of protective gear.

In Fremont County, for instance, where there have been 10 cases all linked to one assisted-living facility, health officials are telling residents to assume they’re positive for the disease if they have symptoms. They’re advising patients to “stay home and avoid all public places.”

Harrist said it’s “difficult to predict” if the state will be able to do more widespread testing, adding that it would depend on how much commercial labs can expand their abilities.

As of Tuesday evening, there have been 35 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Wyoming. Officials have said that because of testing limitations, that’s almost certainly an undercount. Nationwide, also as of Tuesday afternoon, there have been more than 52,200 cases — a 13,000 case increase over 24 hours.

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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"Wyoming, we have a tendency to just kind of pooh-pooh things and blow it off," the head of the state's hospital association said, "but this thing’s here, it’s at our doorsteps, and we can control our own destiny if we do the right thing."

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