Kentucky’s increased capacity to test for COVID-19 could serve as a model for other states

St. E does more than 14K COVID-19 tests in 3 weeks
Posted at 2:09 PM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-28 21:50:39-04

ERLANGER, Ky. — People don’t have to have symptoms to receive a free COVID-19 test in Kentucky.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare has conducted more than 14,000 tests over the last three weeks, according to Hank Kerschen, assistant vice president of Primary Care & Clinical Transformation for the Northern Kentucky hospital group.

The state's testing capacity comes as many states across the U.S. struggle to have adequate testing. Testing in many states has been limited to people who are hospitalized, high risk or working on the front lines.

But Kentucky is uniquely positioned to conduct a large number of COVID-19 tests due to an adequate number of testing locations coupled with enough private labs to process them.

“A lot of people just want to know if they have the disease,” Kerschen said. “We've had people who are symptomatic. We've had asymptomatic people who felt it was a good thing to do to help the state understand how far the disease had spread."

The ability to test more people allows health officials to isolate the person who is infected and trace their contacts, Kerschen said. Widespread testing also allows officials to examine how rapidly the virus is spreading.

Last month, President Donald Trump said states should take responsibility for testing and use the national stockpile only as a last resort.

Senior administration officials said the government would provide each state with enough tests, swabs and related materials to screen at least 2.6% of their populations in May and June, the Associated Press reported. Those hit harder by the outbreak would be eligible for additional assistance.

The test is very specific, Kerschen said, so there aren’t many false positives.

Of the 14,000 tests conducted over the last three weeks, about 6.25% have come back positive.

The majority of the tests conducted by St. Elizabeth are processed by Gravity Diagnostics in Covington.

The four-year-old lab also handles COVID-19 samples for Kentucky hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and all of Kroger’s drive-thru test sites nationwide; the lab hired 45 new employees and 18 summer interns to keep up with the demand.

Kerschen said it’s been a relief to be able to provide coronavirus testing to tens of thousands of people.

“It helps some people answer questions they had about whether they’ve been exposed or not,” Kerschen said. “For others it's just a way to feel better about how they’re taking care of their families.”

St. Elizabeth is providing free COVID-19 tests at 25 Atlantic Ave. in Erlanger. Call 1-800-737-7900 to schedule an appointment.

Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to address Ohio’s testing capabilities during his 2 p.m. briefing on Thursday.