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Widespread Virus Testing In Kentucky Still Possibly 'Weeks Off' (Updated)

AP Photo/John Minchillo

Kentucky officials say it could still be weeks before commercial and academic center testing for COVID-19 is available in the commonwealth. Until then, extensive assessments of the disease footprint won't be possible in the state.

Outside of a couple of national labs that have not reached capacity, the state lab is the only facility capable of evaluating samples for the virus, and it was not built with mass testing in mind. It specializes instead in more uncommon or dangerous tests that other labs can't carry out. To date, the maximum number of tests the state facility has performed in a day is 20.

"There's frustration out there, I hear that," said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack in a press briefing Thursday. "We are doing all the tests we can for the ones that give us the most useful information to either help immediately patients who are sick or to help keep other people safe. But we absolutely rely on the academic centers and then the larger commercial labs to get up to speed at quickly as possible, and that's something entirely outside the Commonwealth of Kentucky's control."

As for the testing kits currently on hand, they number in the hundreds, not thousands. Officials say, for the time being, it's sufficient to handle the cases which are being referred for testing according to CDC guidelines. But it's far from supplying a full picture of the state of the outbreak.

"I will tell you that the timeframe I've been given has changed numerous times," Gov. Andy Beshear said, when asked what's holding up widespread testing. "I hope it's as soon as possible."

Meanwhile, at the University of Kentucky, officials are awaiting equipment and the accompanying FDA approval.

"We anticipate this in the near future," school spokesman Jay Blanton tells WUKY.

Still, Commissioner Stack says, even if the state had comprehensive numbers in hand, it would not change many of the common sense precautions the state is recommending as it looks to head off a run on hospitals.

Update (5 pm): There are now three labs producing COVID-19 results, the state lab, LabCorps, and the University of Louisville.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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