Johnson County commissioners authorize up to $400,000 for COVID-19 testing

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Posted at 5:05 PM, Mar 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-30 19:13:24-04

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Amid the push to get more COVID-19 testing in Johnson County, and after a lengthy question-and-answer session, the Johnson County Board of Commissioners approved up to $400,000 on Monday for additional testing in the county.

The vote, which diverts money from the from the county's reserve funds with the expectation some or all will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, gives Chairman of the Johnson County Board of Commissioners Ed Eilert the authority to enter into contracts for an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 tests.

Johnson County has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state of Kansas with 116 as of Monday, March 30.

Apparently, county staff had tried to enter into an agreement with one vendor, which informed the county Sunday that it could not fill the contract, the Board of Commissioners said at Monday's meeting.

Nonetheless, Johnson County Department of Health and Environment Director Dr. Samni Areola is optimistic the county can find the additional test kits it needs,

"We have some promising leads," he said. "We hope it's sooner rather than later."

Any new contracts will be with private labs, which are working to increase testing capability and expedite dissemination of results.

"JCDHE staff will be responsible for collecting the specimen samples and information from the individuals being tested," the county said in a statement to 41 Action News. "Johnson County is entering into contracts with laboratories to provide testing materials, receive samples, analyze specimens and report the results."

Areola said additional testing is one of the keys to understanding how widespread COVID-19 is and how to deploy resources to contain it. He also said it can be done without testing all of Johnson County.

The state labs in both Kansas and Missouri have dealt with a shortage of testing kits since the pandemic reached the Midwest.

As a result, public health labs have used the test kits primarily on very sick people or those in high-risk groups for COVID-19 complications.

Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said Monday that 72% of tests in the state have been performed by private labs.

"Physicians in the clinics, etc., should not be reluctant to use a commercial lab," Norman said last week. "It's just that we can't burn through all our testing materials. We can't allow that to happen."

Quest Diagnostics, which operates labs in Lexena and St. Louis, is among the private entities performing COVID-19 tests at 12 of its labs across the country, including the Lenexa facility that employs 1,750 workers.

As of March 23, Quest had performed and reported results for 106,000 tests, a number that is expected to grow significantly.

Companywide, 30,000 COVID-19 tests are now being performed daily with a four- to five-day turnaround time for results.

Quest representatives estimate tht the company is doing 44% of all the testing nationwide.

A spokesman for LabCorp, which also operates locations in the Kansas City area, said it's now performing 20,000 tests per day, but only with a health care provider's order.

Finally, Abbott Labs, which also runs a lab in the Kansas City area, plans to distribute new kits to health care providers within the next week, which can get deliver test results in five minutes.

The company is working to deliver 50,000 kits per day to the hardest hit areas of the country. It's unclear if Johnson County has or will reach out to any of those local labs to handle its increased testing needs.