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Wyoming receives more coronavirus testing supplies, can process broader pool of samples
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Wyoming receives more coronavirus testing supplies, can process broader pool of samples

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Urgent Care Clinic

Nurse practitioner Chelsea Mower holds up a nasal swab that is used to collect a COVID-19 sample earlier this month at Urgent Care of Casper. Until a new announcement from the state Health Department, Wyomingites in six priority categories had to be tested through private labs.

The Wyoming Department of Health has received more of the testing supplies needed to process a broader range of potential coronavirus patients, the agency told providers this week.

A Health Department spokeswoman said the state lab can now process samples from people who are symptomatic for the coronavirus but aren’t one of six priority groups, like those who are hospitalized or are older than 65. Three weeks ago, the department told hospitals, clinics and individual providers that because of a shortage of testing materials, the state’s lab would only process samples for those priority groups.

Generally, that excluded a symptomatic person who wasn’t seriously ill or a person who had been exposed to another mild case. Still, tests could be taken at a doctor’s discretion and sent to a private lab.

Because of the broad testing shortage that extended before the Health Department tightened its testing capabilities to only priority groups, officials have long said there’s more disease in Wyoming than can be accounted for. Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, reiterated that at a news conference Thursday.

State data shows that after the state shifted to only testing priority groups, private labs began running many more samples each day than the state lab. With a few exceptions right before the official restriction, the state had typically been the dominant force in testing. There’s been a simultaneous drop in the number of daily cases confirmed, though health officials have previously said it’s too soon to tell if there is truly less disease in Wyoming or if the drop in tests is because of fewer tests being run through the state lab.

In any case, the state lab has received more of the reagents — essentially the chemicals needed on the back end of testing to confirm samples are positive or negative — and can expand their testing abilities again. The priority groups will remain at the top of the queue, as they have for weeks, and that may cause a delay for those non-hospitalized, relatively healthy younger or middle-aged people.

Kim Deti, the Health Department spokeswoman, told the Star-Tribune that the agency wouldn’t speculate if the loosened restrictions may lead to more cases being confirmed in the state. Throughout the pandemic’s seven-week presence in Wyoming, there have been shortages on both ends of the testing spectrum: Hospitals and doctors have struggled to procure enough vials to test everyone they’d like to, and the state has had to limit how it uses it supplies.

Deti said that the provider-side testing — those vials needed to send the samples to the state lab — has improved, alongside the replenishment of state supplies.

She said she didn’t have specifics on how many tests the state lab can run with its fresh stock but added that the lab was “feeling more confident in the supply and availability of the supply to make this change.”

Nationally, conversations around antibody testing have picked up speed of late. The idea is for samples to be taken from mass segments of the population to determine who may have been infected with the disease. But Harrist urged caution on using the method in Wyoming now, citing a lack of scientific rigor behind some of the tests.

She also said antibody testing wouldn’t help diagnose current cases, which is likely the priority here right now. Earlier this month, a Teton County health official said she was focused on diagnostic testing rather than antibody testing. That could come later and be helpful, she said, but the state needed to get a handle of the disease that’s in front of it right now.

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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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