Though state officials announced Sunday that Oklahomans would see a boost in testing for the novel coronavirus by the end of the week, the state still must depend on testing supplies from manufacturers and federal sources.
Those supplies, such as reagents, a chemical needed to complete the tests, remain in short supply across the U.S.
During a press conference on Sunday evening, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced the state would establish four satellite COVID-19 testing sites in Oklahoma, Tulsa, Kay and Pittsburg counties this week.
The governor also amended an executive order on Saturday allowing University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University labs to conduct COVID-19 testing.
“By the end of the week, we should have all the testing we need here in the state of Oklahoma,” Stitt said in an interview with KOCO on Monday morning.
OSU’s lab is expected to receive reagents to run tests on Thursday, a spokesman for the governor’s office said on Monday evening. It appears the state is still on track to expand its daily COVID-19 testing capacity by the end of the week, he said.
However, the state remains limited on supplies needed to run the tests.
Facing a shortage of supplies and in an effort to increase the state’s testing capabilities, the state health department last week announced it had entered into a partnership with private lab Diagnostic Labs of Oklahoma and sent more than 300 specimens to a facility in Dallas for testing.
“The State is well positioned to increase access to COVID-19 testing and delivery of tests results as long as national manufacturers and our federal partners can continue to assist with replenishing COVID-19 testing supplies,” stated the Oklahoma State Department of Health, in an emailed statement on Monday.
The state is aiming to have the satellite sites operating “as soon as possible” and hopes they are operational sometime this week, said Cody McDonell, a spokesman for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, in an email on Monday.
“The State is working to get more supplies from every possible source for testing.” he said. “Other states are facing some of the same issues we are.”
On Monday morning there were 81 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. About 770 people had been tested and two have died from the virus.
Experts and officials in Oklahoma have acknowledged the actual number of cases is higher than what has been reported.
Since confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus started to appear in Oklahoma, the state has struggled to broaden testing and identify infected people.
States got a slow start to testing when the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February rolled out faulty test kits to state and local labs that hindered their abilities to test for COVID-19 because the kits contained a flawed reagent.
Labs across the U.S. are now grappling with a shortage of the reagents needed to complete the tests and Oklahoma has been no exception.
The University of Oklahoma has a certified lab that’s ready to start COVID-19 testing, but the testing is dependent on the availability of test kits and reagents, said James Tomasek, the vice president for research at the OU Health Sciences Center.
Once they receive supplies, the lab could start running tests within three to five days, Tomasek said. Though OU has put in a request for test kits, it’s unclear when those will arrive, he said.
National suppliers are giving first priority to those states that have seen the largest outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, Tomasek said.
Researchers at the OU Health Sciences Center and OU Medicine’s laboratory, in partnership with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, are working to develop their own platform — or test kit — to complete COVID-19 testing, Tomasek said. Though it would be “some time” before that platform was developed, the lab could have the ability to start off at completing 500 tests per day and eventually get up to 4,000 tests per day, he said.
In hopes of avoiding shortages, those kits would use a different type of reagents from the ones CDC kits are currently using, Tomasek said.
At a press conference with the governor on Sunday evening, Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of OSU Center For Health Sciences, said the lab would have testing capabilities by the end of this week. Shrum is also the Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Innovation.
OSU’s research lab could run 2,000 tests per day and get results within 24 hours, Shrum said.
A spokeswoman for Oklahoma State University said she could not give an exact date for when the lab would start testing for COVID-19.
“Our team is actively working to make the internal preparations necessary to help support the COVID-19 testing effort,” the spokeswoman said in an email. “We’d prefer to comment further once we are up and running with a testing facility, which we hope will be very soon.”