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Requests for COVID-19 tests increase

A member of the Michigan National Guard helps with COVID-19 testing in July at the U.P. State Fairgrounds. (Daily Press file photo)

ESCANABA — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, employees of local health care providers spoke about the availability and accuracy of coronavirus testing in the area.

Kim Mahoney, manager of laboratory services at OSF HealthCare St. Francis Hospital & Medical Group, said the state of testing locally has changed significantly since the pandemic began.

“Although availability of testing is still limited, as there is not an unlimited amount of test kits being produced, our facility is able to continually secure a limited number of test kits to perform ongoing testing while the requests for COVID-19 testing continues to increase,” she said.

Earlier this month, Jennie Miller, immunization/communicable disease coordinator for Public Health, Delta & Menominee Counties, said an average of 129.4 tests per day were administered in Delta County. The positivity rate was 2.8 percent, which was up compared to late August.

“We are averaging 67.1 daily positives per million or 2.4 cases per day, which is a two-week upward trend,” she said.

While OSF St. Francis’ testing lab receives all of the hospital’s testing specimens, not all of these samples are actually tested there.

“We have been performing a limited number of COVID tests on-site with the remaining samples being sent to our OSF HealthCare System Lab in Peoria, Ill. for testing,” Mahoney said.

Even for tests sent to Peoria, the average turnaround time is two business days.

With the relatively high availability of COVID-19 tests in Delta County, Miller said people who suspect they may have coronavirus should get tested.

“We strongly encourage all individuals to get tested if they are having symptoms, have been exposed, or are just concerned for any reason. Getting tested is the best way to know the disease burden in the community,” she said.

According to Mahoney, a variety of factors determine how accurate COVID-19 tests are.

“The accuracy of COVID-19 testing begins with the swab collection and also the presence, or detection, of the quantity of COVID-19 virus present, which is known as the viral load,” she said.

The number of days a person has been ill and the method of testing used can also affect these results. Mahoney said polymerase chain reaction testing is the current “gold standard” for testing, as these tests are highly sensitive.

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