It recently came to the attention of some Lake Health District staff members that there are several misconceptions in the community about COVID testing being conducted at the Lake District Hospital (LDH). Jenny Hamrick, the Hospital’s lab manager, discussed local COVID testing with the Lake County Examiner to give members of the public a better understanding of testing availability and procedures.
Hamrick, a Lakeview native, has worked in the Lake District Hospital lab for 18 years. The lab’s staff consists of five techs — two technicians and three scientists — and two phlebotomists.
Hamrick said she recently learned that some local residents believe the Hospital is not doing COVID testing. Others think the Hospital does not have many COVID tests available.
Many people don’t know who orders a test, she added. She emphasized that the Hospital has to receive an order from a health care provider in order to test a patient. Anyone with COVID symptoms should call their provider rather than visiting the emergency room.
The Hospital carries two types of COVID tests: the Abbott ID NOW and the Cepheid GeneXpert. The latter is the more accurate of the two, Hamrick said, and is best for use on people exhibiting symptoms. The Hospital can’t use the GeneXpert for all testing because it has a limited supply.
The Hospital also has a third testing option, sending the sample to Quest Diagnostics in either Portland or Seattle, Wash. for testing. Going this route allows the Hospital to save some of its own tests. This option averages a three-day turnaround for results.
The Abbott ID NOW is used typically used on people who are asymptomatic, often in cases of pre-employment screenings — LDH requires new hires to provide proof that they tested negative for COVID — and for travelers who need a negative result before flying to states or countries that require it.
The reported accuracy rates of the tests have changed as more research is conducted, Hamrick noted. She said the latest results show that ID NOW is 74% accurate, with a 26% false negative rate and a 9% false positive rate.
The GeneXpert is 99% accurate, with a 1% rate of both false negative and false positive.
Patients can get test results from their provider on the same day they receive their test.
Lake County recently received a shipment of rapid BinaxNOW COVID tests. The Hospital opted to send its portion of the tests to Public Health, which will use the tests in the event of an outbreak.
Hamrick clarified that the Hospital receives COVID testing supplies on an allocation basis; it cannot simply order more tests. Tests are first allocated to states by the federal government. Tests in Oregon are then allocated to individual counties by the Oregon Health Authority.
The average number of COVID tests the Hospital administers is 50-75 a week, Hamrick reported. If someone in the county tests positive, that number rises because the person’s contacts may also be tested.
She is “somewhat concerned” for the upcoming due to the prospect of the lab becoming overwhelmed with testing for both COVID and the flu. As of press time, Lake County had no confirmed cases of the flu. Two people must test positive for the flu in Lake County for the county to be considered in flu season.
There is a bright spot on the horizon as flu season and the pandemic converge: Cepheid announced that it received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its new Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2/Flu/RSV test — a single test for COVID-19, Flu A, Flu B, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
Hamrick said she hopes the test will be available in Lake County by Jan. 1, 2021. It will be much more convenient to use only one test for COVID and the flu, she said. It also means fewer bays in the lab’s analyzer will be occupied at a time, making operations more efficient.
The Hospital can also provide antibody testing by taking a blood sample and sending it to Quest Diagnostics to let people know if they have been infected with COVID in the past. Antibody tests must also be ordered by a provider.
But Hamrick believes not enough research has been done to prove whether antibody testing is worthwhile. At this point, she said, there is not enough information to determine whether having already had COVID means a person can’t contract the virus again or won’t infect anyone else.
She envisions the Hospital eventually carrying its own antibody tests, but is not sure when that might happen.
Individuals who have COVID symptoms — fever of more than 100.4 degrees, new onset cough, sore throat, body aches, new onset shortness of breath, or recent loss of taste or smell — should call 541-947-8150 during weekday business hours if they would like to be tested for COVID. Emergency visits should be limited to those experiencing severe symptoms only. Individuals with minor symptoms are encouraged to self-isolate and self-monitor for worsening conditions and call the number above to speak to a medical provider the next business day.