South Dakota state lab braces for ‘surge’ of coronavirus tests

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The lab’s plans were announced by Tim Southern, the director of the South Dakota Public Health Lab, in a call Thursday, March 12, with infection prevention and laboratory teams at health care facilities around the state.

Southern asked labs submitting specimens from possible coronavirus patients to call the lab in advance “due to the significant influx surge of testing we expect,” he said.

The state lab was running tests on 40 possible coronavirus cases on Thursday alone, with results expected later that day. But Southern said the number of tests was a sign of things to come. Prior to Thursday, the state had previously only processed 35 tests after gaining the ability to test for the coronavirus last week.

The state lab has a surge plan to reinforce its “small but committed team of scientists,” which would include the addition of three scientists, he said. “Should we need to surge, we will surge.”

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Currently the state lab tests samples Monday through Friday, and provides courier services to the west side of the state Monday through Friday and to the eastern part of the state Monday through Saturday. But the state lab is negotiating with its courier service and third-party vendors to continuously collect and test specimens.

“Weekend testing will be implemented this weekend and we’re in negotiation right now to provide courier service on the weekend, as well,” Southern said.

The state lab is swiftly processing testing specimens and notifying submitting labs of positive results, he said.

“To date, all testing has been performed same day, and all results have been provided same day, and all presumptive positives have been called to the submitting laboratories within an hour of receiving results,” he said. “So we are pushing out notification of presumptive positive cases very, very quickly.”

The state lab has had to reject some samples submitted this week for testing, Southern said. He emphasized labs that send in case specimens need to pack and label them properly, including using the right form and keeping samples cold.

All samples tested “presumptive positive are sent to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” he said. And while federal and state officials have had strict guidelines for whom should be tested for coronavirus, Southern said the state lab is loosening those guidelines, and is no longer requiring a call to the Department of Health for a sign-off.

“We are now empowering our clinical partners to make the necessary decisions to determine if an individual needs testing,” he said.

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