TO OUR READERS: This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Sign up for our daily or breaking newsletters to stay informed. Please support local journalism by subscribing to The Providence Journal.
The surge in coronavirus testing that Rhode Island leaders describe as a crucial part of their strategy for containing the outbreak appears to be kicking into gear at area hospitals.
Care New England, the state’s second-largest hospital system, said this week it has received two machines that can test samples for the novel coronovirus that causes COVID-19.
One of the machines went to Women & Infants Hospital in Providence and the other to Kent Hospital in Warwick, said Robin Neale, Care New England’s director of clinical effectiveness and infection prevention.
And at Lifespan, the state’s largest hospital system, a large shipments of test kits is expected “within the next few days,” which will allow its hospitals to take advantage of their testing equipment, which has the capacity to run “several hundred” samples per day.
Since the early cases of COVID-19 were identified in Rhode Island at the start of this month, the bulk of coronavirus testing has been done by the state Department of Health at its laboratory. More recently, an increasing number of samples are being sent to private labs for testing.
Care New England has been collecting samples at the direction of the Department of Health, including at a drive-through tent at Kent Hospital, but has had to send the samples to the state or private labs for analysis.
The new machines will allow Care New England to do its own verification and expand the range of people being tested, Neale said.
“They just arrived yesterday and are being installed today and tomorrow, so we will have them up and running for validation this week,” Neale said Tuesday evening.
Currently testing in Rhode Island is being focused primarily on healthcare workers, people in nursing homes and the high-risk population.
Neale said when the machines are up and running, Care New England will be able to offer testing to its own hospital patients.
And Care New England is also planning to open a “respiratory assessment tent” next week where primary care doctors can refer patients for testing.
The machines that read patient samples are only one of the pieces of equipment needed to test people for coronavirus.
The nasal swabs that collect samples, the tubes that the samples go in and the chemical agents used to indicate results are also in short supply and limiting the number of tests that can be performed.
At Lifespan, the issue has been test kits, which suppliers have made sure are available for hard-hit states like New York, Washington and Louisiana.
“Lifespan has been ready to run up to several hundred coronavirus tests daily in Lifespan’s laboratory but has been limited to running fewer due to lack of testing kits available to us,” Kathleen Hart, Lifespan spokesperson wrote in an email. “Within the next few days Lifespan is expecting a larger shipment of test kits that will allow us to perform hundreds of tests in-house daily, starting within the next week.”
She said that in the interim Lifespan has prioritized running tests for its in-patients and emergency department patients.
On Tuesday the state Department of Health reported 160 more tests than the previous day, and on Wednesday reported 189 new total tests. Both are far short of the 600 to 800 daily tests Gov. Gina Raimondo said she expects will be happening early next week. (The state says it is not yet reporting negative and pending tests done at private labs.)
Numerous Rhode Islanders experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms and assuming they have the disease have not been able to get tested in recent weeks.
On Tuesday Dr. James McDonald told The Journal that the state wants to get to the point in the next few weeks “where if you want to be tested, you can be tested.”
State Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott said Wednesday that the state has “been working very hard to address the laboratory supply challenges” to testing.
“We are talking to primary care docs, the respiratory clinics we have activated. We are working to put the measures in place so that we can expand.”
On Twitter: PatrickAnderso_