As the COVID-19 pandemic draws on, daily new cases in Arizona appear to be headed in the right direction, as well as hospitalizations.
However, state and private labs continue to ensure that testing capabilities will be efficient should a second wave occur in Arizona.
Sonora Quest, one of the state’s private lab partners in processing tests, has reported more than 750,000 tests since it began offering COVID-19 diagnostic testing on March 20, the company stated on Tuesday. In a statement, the company says it continues to make positive progress each day, bringing additional testing instrumentation online with a goal of reducing turnaround time in the coming weeks.
“Our dedicated team of laboratory professionals is working 24 hours a day to install, validate and deploy new testing lines to allow for increased capacity for diagnostic COVID-19 testing,” according to the statement. The company says it has hired and trained more than 200 additional employees — full-time and temporary — to support expansion of COVID-19 diagnostic testing.
Sonora Quest also has three new dedicated COVID-19 production lines running with a focus on optimizing workflow.
“Capacity will continue to increase as additional testing lines are added until a capacity of 60,000 tests per day is reached,” according to the statement. “Sonora Quest’s ability to reach a 60,000 tests per day capacity greatly positions Arizona’s readiness should the State experience a second wave of COVID resurgence.”
Currently, antibody testing is being reported in under 24 hours from receipt. Meanwhile, active infection testing is being reported in under 24 hours from receipt for hospital customers and within one or two days from receipt for the majority of other testing.
“Testing turnaround time may vary based on testing demand, supplies, and other factors,” Sonora Quest stated.
Results are sent to the ordering physician, most commonly through electronic medical records systems — EMRs. They may have their own process for notifying patients of results and that is a case-by-case situation. That means it’s possible that some places will call you for a negative result instead of only if you test positive.
Sonora Quests recommends patients always discuss next steps with their doctor in receiving test results. Patients can sign up to get their results on SonoraQuest.com where they can sign up for text/email notifications as soon as their results are available.
In a blog post Wednesday, Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said the majority of test results are available within 48 hours.
“We are currently evaluating existing testing locations and their coverage areas to identify gaps in access to testing that we can fill,” Ms. Christ stated. “We’ve also worked closely with laboratories across the state to improve turnaround times for testing so that Arizonans and public health can rapidly take action on a positive test result.”
As of Friday, over 1.4 million tests have been conducted in Arizona. Of the nearly 1.2 million PCR tests, there is a 12.8% positivity rate, while over 264,000 serology tests have produced a 6.3% positivity rate, according to the AZDHS.
On Aug. 15, free COVID-19 testing was conducted at Desert West Sports Complex in Phoenix. A trip to the site at 9 a.m. produced a wait time of zero, with paperwork and nasal swab taking no more than 15 minutes. On the evening of Aug. 16, results were available via the Sonora Quest website.
With people having to wait several days or weeks for results to come back during the first few months of the pandemic, Daily Independent asked the AZDHS and Sonora Quest about the ability to produce test results quicker than before.
“Public health has worked with public and private partners throughout the response to increase capacity for COVID-19 testing,” stated Holly Poynter, public information officer for AZDHS. “The increase in overall capacity, increase in the types of tests available, stabilization of the supply chain, and the recent decrease in demand for testing has all likely contributed to faster turnaround times.”
In its statement, Sonora Quest says its capacity is greater than the current testing demand and the company continues to look for ways to provide solutions to bolster preparedness for any potential surges in the future.
“Sonora Quest is able to meet today’s demand and exceed it due to increased testing capacity and the addition of staff,” the company stated. “We haven’t stopped growing our capacity and we look to add even more instrumentation and more ways to provide solutions to bolster preparedness for any potential surges in the future.”
Across Arizona and the nation, companies like CVS have implemented rapid COVID-19 tests. CVS, while having 91 drive-thru COVID-19 self-swab testing sites across the state, also has two rapid testing locations its CVS location near 43rd and Glendale avenues, as well as St. Vincent de Paul’s Virginia G. Piper Medical & Dental Clinic in Phoenix.
In June, CVS said 60% of its test sites across the nation — including all Arizona locations — are in counties that serve communities with the greatest need for support.
The AZDHS says several rapid tests have been authorized for use under an Emergency Use Authorization by the Federal Drug Administration. The Arizona State Public Health Laboratory performs diagnostic PCR testing for individuals prioritized for testing in accordance with the ASPHL Testing Matrix.
Requirements for schools
As schools start to decide when to allow students back into the classroom, state officials have required schools, child care centers and shelters to report outbreaks of COVID-19 to their local health departments. The measure applies to public schools, charter schools and private schools with students from kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as child care establishments and shelters.
Those facilities already are required to report to their local health departments cases of communicable diseases including mumps, measles, and chickenpox.
An outbreak is defined as two or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 within a 14-day period among individuals who are epidemiologically linked, do not share a household and are not close contacts of each other in another setting.
However, don’t expect there to be mass testing of staff and students.
“At this time, there is not testing available to support mass testing of entire groups of people to identify those who are positive,” Ms. Poynter stated. “Additionally, each test will only show someone’s status at that particular time; therefore, testing would need to be ongoing.
“Given the current status of COVID-19 transmission in Arizona, individuals are still safer at home,” Ms. Poynter continued.
The AZDHS recommends individuals practice physical distancing and evaluate the risk before engaging in activities. Also, new guidance released by the CDC recommends that people who do not have symptoms or who have not been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 do not need to get a test.
Cases at ASU as in-person learning resumes
On the testing front, Arizona State University reported 161 current coronavirus cases among students and staff across the university’s four Valley campuses. However, President Michael Crow said they were expected because of broad testing.
In a statement Tuesday evening, Mr. Crow said ASU has a robust testing program that has collected samples from more than 32,000 students and staff since Aug. 1.
The nation’s largest public university started its fall semester the week of Aug. 17 and has about 100,000 students and employees coming to its four Valley campuses on staggered days. The current cases include students and employees, including about 20,000 students living on campus, Mr. Crow said.
Mr. Crow also committed to regular updates on case counts and management strategy. He also announced penalties for students that ignore social distancing rules and boosted ASU’s mask policy to require face coverings at all times on university property. Previously, masks were required indoors and outside when social distancing wasn’t possible. Now it’s a universal requirement, except while eating.
“Students engaged — whether hosting or attending — in social gatherings on or off campus that do not adhere to public health protocols will be subject to suspension,” Mr. Crow stated. “We have a no-visitor policy in our residence halls — this includes students who live in other residence halls. Students who violate the no-visitor policy will be subject to suspension and evicted from university housing.”
The cases at the university come as the state continues to report lower daily cases and hospitalizations for the virus.
The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in Arizona has decreased over the past two weeks, going from 1,176 new cases per day on Aug. 11 to 621.86 new cases per day on Aug. 25, according to The Associated Press.
Testing sites are available throughout Arizona and will continue to be added, especially in areas with minimal testing capacity, Ms. Christ stated in her blog. As of Wednesday, over 400 testing sites are operational across the state, ranging from large-scale drive through testing sites to local drug stores to federally qualified health centers. Most offer free testing, including saliva-based testing sites run by ASU in Maricopa and Pima counties.