West Virginia is doing a better job testing for Covid-19 than most of the country. The DHHR dashboard said as of yesterday there have been 525,236 confirmed laboratory test results.
That is the equivalent of 29.4 percent of the state’s population. That is slightly better than the national average of 28.6 percent and better than any of our surrounding states.
However, Governor Jim Justice and his top health advisors say the amount of testing still needs to increase significantly.
West Virginia has been averaging about 4,000 tests per day for the last seven days. Justice said earlier this week that he would like at least 7,000 tests, and perhaps as many as 10,000 tests per day.
“Please go get tested,” Justice said. “We’ve got to know where the problems are. You’ll never, ever get out of any hole unless you know how deep in the hole you are.”
Justice, in his own folksy way, has hit a critical metric for getting the state in front of the virus, reopening all the public schools and resuming a greater sense of normalcy.
He made his point even more graphically Wednesday when he took a Covid-19 test during his briefing. “There’s nothing to it. It takes every bit of 10 seconds. There’s no pain. There’s no nothing,” Justice said.
More testing means a more rapid response to the spreaders. West Virginia Covid-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh said on Talkline Wednesday that new research posted in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that about 80 percent of the secondary transmissions of the virus are coming from just ten percent of the cases.
In other words, more testing should help health officials identify potential spreaders and conduct contact tracing before it spirals out of control.
The additional testing should also provide a clearer picture of the infection rate. The hope is that the more accurate percent positive numbers, combined with the revised school reopening metric, will give counties a better opportunity to reopen or stay open.
One of the lingering questions, however, is how quickly test results are available. Asymptomatic individuals are not inclined to self-quarantine if they must wait five or six days to learn if they are infected.
Another is whether state and local health officials have the capacity to more than double the amount of testing. Dr. Marsh said he believes they do, but we will have to see.
And finally, what is the willingness of more West Virginians to get tested? Many West Virginians are worn out with the pandemic and are already pushing ahead with their lives as close to normal as possible.
We still do not have a vaccine, and probably will not for a while. Johnson & Johnson announced this week its early tests produced positive results and it is moving on to the final stage of clinical trials. However, company officials said it will be the end of year at the earliest before they know if the vaccine is safe.
That means the virus is not going away any time soon. In the meantime, we need to perfect our response. Increased testing is one of those strategies.