Is Washington's Covid Testing Supply Situation Improving? Depends On Whom You Ask

May 21, 2020

The federal government has increased the number of coronavirus testing supplies it sends to the state of Washington, but still only a small fraction of what was promised.
Credit Abbott

One of the challenges for Washington as it emerges from Covid-related restrictions is finding enough equipment to test people for the virus. State officials say more testing is needed to be able to track the spread.

How’s that going?

Dr. Charissa Fotinos coordinates Washington’s testing strategy for the Department of Health. As counties open up and they’re required to test more people, can the state get them enough kits? That depends on whether the federal government can provide enough supply.

“I am more hopeful than I was a couple weeks ago because we’re starting to see an increase in the number of testing supplies we’re getting. Can I guarantee that the supply chains will be uninterrupted from here on out? I cannot," Fotinos said.

Whether the federal response is better than it has been is open to interpretation. Fotinos says the federal government has vowed to send Washington, in both May and June, nearly 600,000 swabs as well as the liquids needed to preserve the test specimens. So far, the state has received less than a third of what it was promised.

So while Fotinos is hopeful, Spokane County Health Officer Bob Lutz is disappointed. He says the recent past has shown a spotty federal response to the state’s needs.

“They were never informed that they were going to get 22,000 swabs that look like cotton-tip applicators," Lutz said. "Can they be used sterilely? Sure. But rather than individually wrapped, they come in boxes of, whatever, 5,100. So I know Charissa has been very frustrated. Ramesh, who is the public health lab director, has been very frustrated. And that translates to frustration at our level because we can’t do what we need to do.”

Fotinos says the state has had some success is turning to private sources, especially in-state, to help find and manufacture supplies.

“We have worked with a local company in Spokane, S2, to produce viral transport media and they are actively in the process of ramping up their production to tens of thousands a week," she said.

That could ensure a more reliable supply and help Washington’s economy too.