The time it takes for residents of Clallam and Jefferson counties to find out if they have the highly contagious COVID-19 coronavirus is getting shorter.
Within weeks, results will be available the same day tests are administered, health officials said this week.
Test results for Clallam County residents that once took four to seven days will take 12 hours to complete beginning Monday, Dr. Scott Kennedy, Olympic Medical Center chief medical officer, said Wednesday, April 15.
“We are putting another courier on, so we will have couriers twice a day to the University of Washington,” he said.
“It essentially becomes an emergency room test.”
Kennedy said Jefferson Healthcare hospital, Forks Community Hospital and Clallam Bay Corrections Center have been invited to join the second daily run, which will begin during a Monday-through-Friday time frame and could expand to seven days a week.
Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, said faster test results will have a “huge” benefit, recalling that results at one time took 14 days.
Faster results help better manage people who must be isolated whether or not they are infected while they await results and allows faster contact tracing to stem the spread.
“The turnaround time is really significant, ” Locke said Thursday.
“We can’t maximize the benefits of isolation and quarantine if we have those kinds of delays.”
The first person who tested positive on the North Olympic Peninsula was a Jefferson County man who was tested March 2; his results were made public March 6.
Kennedy said test-result turnaround times will improve even more in the next few weeks, when OMC expects to receive supplies that will enable staff to test residents onsite and determine results within an hour.
Locke said Jefferson Healthcare will have the same capabilities within the next two or three weeks.
Faster results cut usage of personal protection equipment (PPE), which is in short supply.
“If you don’t have a test result yet, you’re using more PPE supply than if you had a negative test,” Kennedy said.
He said faster results and more equipment also could lead to more widespread testing, a key component of determining the number of residents infected by the respiratory virus.
“We’re hopeful that, some time in the summer, we will have that widespread testing,” Kennedy said.
“I think that’s our best path to putting this virus in its corner.”
As of Thursday, 806 Clallam County residents had been tested, about 1 percent of the population — the same percentage tested nationally.
In Jefferson County, 705 residents have been tested, or 2 percent of the population.
Locke said health officials agree that the next big phase of coronavirus control will be “a massive increase” in testing, which currently is limited to people showing symptoms such as shortness of breath, fever, a cough or a sore throat.
Also being tested are healthcare workers, first responders, corrections officers, the homeless community, congregate-care residents, and people older than 60 who need medical attention.
“We need to solve the shortage issues of specimen kits,” Locke said.
“We are seeing more of those coming.”
Locke joined health officials statewide during a conference call Wednesday night on the pandemic.
“The state is anticipating a large shipment of swabs,” he said.
Broader testing will involve a high degree of cooperation between health departments and hospitals, which Locke said is already occurring in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
People who are asymptomatic won’t be tested anytime soon, Kennedy predicted.
“The time for that is not right now,” he said.
“The important thing right now is to keep essential functions running as we look at ways to hopefully phase our way out of this condition we are currently in.”
Kennedy said hospital officials are continually reviewing the need to conduct surgeries that have been determined to be non-urgent, or elective, that have been delayed until May 18 under an order issued by Gov. Jay Inslee.
“Some cases may become urgent that were considered elective earlier,” he said.
“If someone has a broken ankle, we may have the option to treat it non-surgically.
“If someone has a gall bladder that needs to come out, it may have been more elective, but later it may become an urgent issue.”