Michigan only has 400 tests available for coronavirus — northern Michigan swabs go downstate

Mar 12, 2020

A coronavirus test kit used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Credit CDC

Two people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state.

In northern Michigan, tests are available but require a lengthy process. Swabs containing potential samples of the virus have to be driven downstate to the state lab.

 

 


Michigan has the ability to test up to 400 people for the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday. However, some people need multiple tests, which decreases the availability for others.

So far, 77 people in Michigan have been approved for coronavirus testing, the state reported as of Wednesday afternoon. Eighteen test results are still pending and two tests returned positive.

Joshua Meyerson, the director of three health departments covering most of northwest lower Michigan, says testing can be done for those that exhibit symptoms.

He says the first step is for people to call their doctor or the hospital if they fear they were exposed to the virus or feel sick.

“Some people if they have mild illness may not even need to be seen by their physician,” Meyerson says. “But if testing is needed that will be coordinated by the health department at this time.”

He says this past weekend one person in northern Michigan got tested.

The patient had travelled abroad and started showing flu-like symptoms. After consulting with their doctor and the local health department, the group determined a test was necessary.

Medical professionals swabbed the patient and the specimens were driven to the state lab in Lansing to be tested. Meyerson says within 24 hours the sample came back negative for the virus.

Some in the community have voiced concerns about the availability of these tests.

MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin says Michigan has enough testing kits for now. But she says the test supply is limited, so people need to be screened to make sure they fit the criteria before getting the test.

“Health care providers are working very closely with the local health department as well as the state health department to determine who should be tested, who has those symptoms and potentially that travel history,” Sutfin says. “So all those things are taken into consideration when these tests are provided.”

She says the state has requested more kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But she says it could be a while before Michigan gets any, depending on which states the government prioritizes helping.

Sutfin says if the state starts to run low on testing supplies, it can order more from a private company in Iowa. She says the kits would likely arrive in a few days. 

“We feel that we are prepared with the state lab with the tests that we have,” Sutfin says. “We know that private labs have come online to provide testing. In addition, we know the state hospitals will soon have the option to begin testing as well.”

Private labs would speed up the test results and increase the number of tests available, but they aren’t up and running yet.

And the two major hospital systems in northern Michigan Munson Healthcare and McLaren Northern Michigan both say they are not yet able to run tests onsite.

For now, public health officials agree the safe bet is to stay home and self-isolate if people show signs they’re becoming ill.