Charleston and Kanawha County officials on Saturday called on the state Office of Laboratory Services to begin processing COVID-19 test samples on a 24/7 basis, instead of the lab’s current work schedule of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and limited hours on weekends.
“We need the state lab open 24/7 so that we can quickly respond and slow the spread of COVID-19,” Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said during a news conference at the Ned Chilton Metro 911 Center. “We need all of the tools in our toolbox right now to make sure we are doing everything we can to flatten the curve.”
The longer city and county health workers have to wait to receive word of a positive COVID-19 case in their community, the more likely the chances of the disease spreading become, said Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango.
“We need to be able to quickly notify people who have been in close contact” with individuals carrying the disease, Salango said. “They need to self-quarantine as soon as possible to prevent spreading it to others.”
Those being tested for COVID-19 deserve to know their results as soon as possible to ease fears if results are negative, and to quarantine and monitor family members and others who have been in close contact if results are positive, Salango said.
“Timing is so critical to identify people who have been in contact with someone who tests positive,” said the commissioner. “But we have people in the county right now in critical care units who continue to wait” to learn whether or not they are COVID-19 positive, he said, because the state health lab closed Friday night and opened for a brief period on Saturday morning before closing again, Salango said.
When the lab was telephoned at 11 a.m. Saturday, no one answered, according to Salango.
“One patient we’ve been watching was supposed to have been informed about test results at 10 p.m. [Friday] last night,” Salango said. “Then we were told it would be 10 a.m. today, and then 11 a.m., and then sometime this afternoon, and a little while ago, in 90 minutes. We still haven’t heard.”
While waiting for results, county health personnel interviewed the patient to determine who needed to be contacted if test results turned out to be positive. “If the test turns out to be negative, we may have wasted some time,” Salango said, “but if it’s positive, we will get a head start” on notifying those who need to self-quarantine.
An open letter to state DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch and state Public Health Commissioner Cathy Slemp, signed by Goodwin, Salango and fellow County Commissioners Kent Carper and Hoppy Shores, was made public during the news conference.
“The fact that the Office of Laboratory Services continues to have operational hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and very limited hours on the weekends, is absolutely unacceptable,” according to the letter.
“Our community and quite frankly, the entire state of West Virginia, deserve better,” it continued. “They deserve quicker results that will help local health departments quickly trace who has had contact with those who have tested positive so the appropriate quarantine measures can be taken to help stop the spread of this virus and flatten the curve.”