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N.C. increases COVID-19 testing as state moves into Phase 2 of recovery


DTH Photo Illustration depicting a nasal swab used for COVID-19 testing.

North Carolina is ramping up its coronavirus testing capacity, completing over 8,000 almost every day since May 13.

The state has completed a total of 290,645 tests as of May 21, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services.   

In a May 20 briefing, Gov. Roy Cooper and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen said this increase in testing was a crucial part of the decision to move into Phase 2 of Cooper's coronavirus recovery plan, starting at 5 p.m. on May 22.

In the briefing, Cohen said the state is looking to continue increasing capacity through Phase 2.

“We’re working with counties as well as partners from the private sector to continue to expand access to testing across the whole state,” Cohen said in the briefing. 

To meet the need for increased testing, UNC Health Care, which includes locations like UNC Medical Center and UNC Health affiliate hospitals, uses three types of tests that all show results in less than 24 hours.

Melissa Miller, a professor at the UNC School of Medicine and the director of the clinical microbiology and molecular microbiology labs for UNC, led the development of one of the tests. She said diversifying the types of coronavirus tests available stabilizes the supply chain, which experienced instability early in the pandemic.

“We do not normally have many tests for one virus, but this is because of the demand for more and more testing, and that we couldn't rely on just one system to be able to get enough tests,” Miller said.

As of May 19, the average number of tests conducted by UNC Health system was around 450 for the past seven days — approximately 28 percent growth compared to the week before, Miller said.   

She said this increase was made possible through the acquisition of new tests and medical instruments.

“At this point, we’re going to increase the capacity of our system going forward, with each new instrument or each new test that we add,” Miller said.

To support testing efforts, local manufacturers have shifted production lines to produce medical equipment such as PPE and isolation gowns.  

Bright View Technologies, a Durham-based company that specializes in optical management products, has produced about 500,000 face shields since the pandemic began.

Company President Jennifer Aspell said Bright View has proceeded with a three-fold strategy during the pandemic.

“One is to safeguard the health of our employees, two is to protect our business continuity, and three is to be responsible to our community,” Aspell said.

Under the strategy, the company has completed orders from the state, healthcare systems across the country and individuals.

To support people economically affected by COVID-19, BVT also hires independent contractors who assemble face shields with provided cutting equipment and materials like ultra-pure and high-clarity plastics, Aspell said. 

With the expanding testing capacity, healthcare systems can have outreach into more communities and to “learn the real burden of disease in our state,” Miller said.

For instance, despite smaller testing capacities, UNC Health affiliate hospitals conduct the same tests across different counties to serve their inpatients and emergency department patients, she said.

As a result of increased outreach, Miller said medical workers are able to identify appropriate quarantine measures.   

“It all really starts with testing,” she said. “Having a test result, in and of itself, doesn't mean a whole lot unless it's also coupled with measures like tracing contact and interrupting transmission.”

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More information about testing guidance and locations in the state can be found here.

@DTHCityState |

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