Rapid testing unlikely at public health labs soon

Catholic Health used rapid testing to help mitigate Father Baker Manor outbreak

Mike Baggerman
April 07, 2020 - 3:00 am

Erie County Legislature on Franklin Street in Buffalo. January 2019 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – Rapid testing for coronavirus may have allowed Catholic Health to put out a metaphorical fire at Father Baker Manor. But on a large scale, it’s unlikely the rapid testing will come any time soon to Erie County.

“It’s a very hot market right now, so we’re in competition with all the other laboratories not only in the United States, but globally,” Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said. “We’re trying our hardest and I assume we will eventually get a rapid test. However, I can’t say when that will be.”

Catholic Health successfully ordered 4,000 rapid tests through Cepheid, a company that was approved by the federal government to conduct the testing. Cepheid can detect coronavirus in about 45 minutes from the time a sample is taken.

“Given the low quantities of testing that we have, we must focus on the frail and in-patient world as well as the long-term care and home-care world before we go into testing any of the community in the worried-well,” Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan said.

Catholic Health went “all in” on testing at Father Baker Manor after there were two instances of coronavirus among residents. After it received the tests from Cepheid last week, they found that 19 out of 20 residents in one wing contracted coronavirus. Mass testing there discovered 66 total cases of coronavirus. Of those totals, 41 were from residents while 25 employees also contracted coronavirus.

“In less than 30 hours, 600 tests were conducted by Catholic Health with the results coming back,” Sullivan said. “…With that, we were able to stop the spread at Father Baker Manor. With that, we’ll be able to stop the spread in other communities and facilities.”

Sullivan said they are now in the “single digits” of patients that are under investigation. Because of the low number, they’re now able to focus resources on trying to obtain personal protective equipment.

Catholic Health is expecting its next batch of approximately 1,000 tests to arrive on Wednesday.

Burstein and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and said that Cepheid utilizes a different method of testing than what is capable at the Erie County Public Health Lab.

“We’ve attempted to get the Abbott Laboratories test analyzers as well as kits and we’ve been told pretty much that they’re not authorized to provide them to local public health labs,” Poloncarz said. “They have to go to either the CDC or the state. I do know the state is in the process of acquiring a number of them but I don’t think they’ve been able to get enough of them to actually farm any of them out to us or other public health labs.”

Poloncarz said they’d love to be able to get rapid testing but they have to test based on the market. Because all municipalities are fighting for the same testing capabilities, Erie County finds themselves unable to receive any.

 “Your average citizen does not need this test right now,” Dr. David Persing, Cepheid’s Chief Medical and Technology Officer, said in a video shared on the company’s website. “Of all the testing that is happening now and all the testing that has happened in South Korea, about 96 to 98 percent of them were negative. Yes, we care about the two or three percent that are positives because it helps but unless you’re symptomatic and have a fever, you don’t really need this test right now.”

Persing said the test is designed for those that need it because they’re in the hospital due to the symptoms associated with COVID-19.

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