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Health Department discusses testing in the five-county area

HANCOCK — The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) continues to work with state and federal agencies to acquire needed personal protection equipment, such as gloves, gowns and masks to the five-county region. Cathryn Beer, health officer and administrator, said whether or not the western U.P. will actually experience a surge in novel coronavirus (COVID-19), she wants the region to be prepared for it.

Combined with preparing for a surge, the department is also facing requests for mor information regarding COVID-19 tests.

Currently, there is only testing conducted on “priority cases,” those being healthcare workers and others considered employed in essential fields, such as emergency medical personnel, nurses, and those who must be on the front lines of the coronavirus battle.

Part of the reason is an ongoing, nationwide shortage of test kit materials, and lab capacity for processing those tests, including reagents and supplies for performing the tests. This has been a continuous problem in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and it is no different in the five-county region of the U.P., Beer said.

“One of the things that we’re seeing is that the swabbing supplies are in short supply” Beer explained. “The nasal swabs, the nasopharyngeal nasal swabs, are in short supply, but when it gets to the lab — and one of the reasons it gets prioritizing at the labs — is that the media, mediums, (reagents) that are used to run the lab tests, are in short supply. So, that’s one of the reasons you’re seeing this prioritization of people, and the lag in getting results back.”

Results have been slow to come back from both the state and commercial labs, she said, because testing resources are stretched so thin.

“The state has prioritized the processing of tests for people that are known contacts of confirmed cases,” she said, “people who are symptomatic, with a travel history to a region with widespread transmission, healthcare related workers, and those with severe symptoms requiring hospitalization with no other identified illness.”

The swab is long. It is inserted through the nasal passage, to the back of the throat, just above nasopharynx. It is then rotated to collect viral specimens. It is not a comfortable ordeal Beer said, nor is it easy for healthcare employees to administer.

“We’ve actually had a few tests come back with ‘non-adequate sample,’ because the practitioner really needs to know what they’re doing,” she said.

The growing concern now, in reference to PPE and testing supplies, is the return of the “snow birds,” the part-time residents of the U.P. and northern Lower Peninsula, who leave for the winter and return in the spring.

“A lot of the snow birds are coming back now; they’re coming back from Florida and elsewhere, so there is a major concern there, too,” she said. “Will they self-quarantine if they are allowed to return, or when they return?

“Who’s getting their groceries? There is a lot of movement out there that we just can’t really control at this point. People need to be self-conscious in the steps that they’re taking, and how those steps effect other people’s lives.”

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