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Why Virginia is giving fewer COVID-19 tests than almost any other state

Posted at 12:26 AM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 13:59:13-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- New data shows that Virginia is tied for the second-lowest rate of COVID-19 testing in the entire country; a reality that Gov. Northam says is stalling the state's ability to safely reopen.

Across the Commonwealth, small business owners and employees are feeling the financial consequences of business closures due to COVID-19.

International Hair on Forest Hill Avenue in Richmond is typically filled with the sounds of dryers, music, and laughter.

But, now, it sits quiet, except for the occasional visit by stylists like Tesha Harris who have been out of work for nearly four weeks.
And unlike other small businesses, salons in particular are unable to offer their business virtually or from afar.

"Trust me, I want to give you a haircut, but is it safe?," Harris said. "We can't do curbside hairstyles, we can't deliver a hairstyle without coming into contact, we have to touch our clients."

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Like others, Harris said that she has applied for every assistance program being offered by the state and federal government.

But as of Tuesday April 28, she said that she had yet to receive a penny.

"The process has been tedious, and sometimes it has been disappointing to say the least," Harris said.

Stories like Harris's are exactly what Gov. Northam must take into account when deciding how and when to re-open Virginia's economy. And a major part of that decision revolves around the state's ability to test people for the virus.

"While the testing is not where we want it to be, we're getting there," Northam said at his press conference on Monday.

According to The COVID Tracking Project, neighboring states like North Carolina, Tennessee and Maryland had tested far more people than Virginia, as of April 28.

In Tennessee for example, 161,926 people have been tested. In Virginia, only 82,753 tests have been administered.

In fact, a CBS 6 analysis of the data showed that Virginia was tied with Kansas at 0.0093 for the second lowest rate of testing in the entire country, as of April 27.

COVID-19 testing

Rhode Island in contrast had the highest rate of testing at .052 tests per person.

When asked why the Commonwealth is lagging behind so many other states, the Governor pointed to a lack of supplies, and the fact that a many health providers opted not to use the tests because they were too cumbersome.

While Northam has said the situation has since evolved and gotten better, some local doctors said they are still struggling.

"The problem is, we still can't run the tests," Dr. Sterling Ransone, a family doctor in Deltaville, said.

He said that physicians like him do not have the supplies they need, including PPE and nasal swabs, that they need to collect the nasal mucus to send in for testing.

"I've got a Ferrari that is sitting in my garage, but I don't have any gas," Dr. Ransone said. "I can't run it because I don't have anything to run it with."

To try to help Virginia doctors get test supplies, the Governor brought Dr. Karen Remley on board on April 20.

Remley was previously the state's Health Commissioner during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, and said Virginia has been cautious and selective when purchasing supplies to ensure they that are not fraudulent.

When asked how the state can get the testing supplies to clinicians like Dr. Ransone, Dr. Remley said that a communication strategy between clinics and the government must be opened.

"We have to develop a communications strategy with our clinical community so they can know on a weekly basis where things are, and be able to communicate to us what they need," Remley explained, adding that the state's supply rations can be random and thus difficult to distribute.

Dr. Remley
Dr. Remley

"Will the lift from here to there be very hard? Absolutely, every day because as you know sometimes you get in a million nasal swabs but no masks, or test kits but no nasal swabs, so it's a constant effort," Remley added.

Governor Northam announced Friday that he wanted 10,000 Virginians to get tested daily in order to re-open the economy.

In the past few days, the state has ramped up testing from an average of 2,000-3,000 people per day, to 4,000 per day, however, on Monday, just 2,500 people were tested.

When asked when he hoped to have the capacity to test 10,000 Virginians a day, Gov. Northam said that he does not have an exact date pinpointed.

"I would hope, again, that this will be ramped up in the next couple of weeks, but as as far as an exact date of 10,000, I don't have that, but as soon as we can get there, we will."

"Be patient and be positive and understand that the health departments of Virginia, the Governor's office, and everyone involved wants to do what is best for Virginia," Remley added.

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