OKLAHOMA CITY — The governor’s ambitious COVID-19 expansion program has overwhelmed state resources, forcing health officials to temporarily scale back testing availability across the state.
Ongoing testing of 42,000 nursing home patients and staff and the opening public COVID-19 testing to asymptomatic Oklahomans spiked the number of tests sent to state laboratories.
There’s not enough testing machines to process the increases, said Shelley Zumwalt, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health. She said the state does have enough test kits and the necessary reagent to process them.
“We advised drive-thru sites to temporarily scale back testing while we allow labs to catch up,” she said. "(The state health department) is rapidly problem-solving to process this large influx of tests quickly, and we are asking for COVID testing pods to remain open and to limit testing until Thursday to those who are symptomatic or been in contact with someone who is COVID-positive.”
News of the testing glitches also comes as Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt prepares to reopen additional swaths of the state later this week as part of a phased reopening plan. Phase 2 of his plan allows nonessential travel to resume, along with organized sports activities. Funerals and weddings can be held with more than 10 people. Children and nursery areas in places of worship can reopen. Bars can open as long as there is diminished standing-room occupancy.
On Monday, Stitt said Oklahoma continues to have the eighth fewest COVID-19 cases per capita with 116 per 100,000 people. It had the second lowest rate of any state with more than 2 million people.
He’s previously touted expanded testing capacity that allows those not showing symptoms and those without a physician referral to get tested for COVID-19.
Enid resident Kathy Gabelsberg said her husband is exhibiting signs of COVID-19 — fever, shortness of breath and chest pain — but when she called the local health department for testing was told it wasn’t available.
Gabelsberg said she did not want not take her husband to the hospital for screening. His primary care doctor first wanted him to undergo additional screening for other illnesses before getting a COVID-19 test.
Now they’re just waiting at home.
Gabelsberg said a nurse at the Garfield County Health Department told her the state labs are so bottlenecked that nobody can send any more tests until the backlog clears.
“Somewhere, there’s a disconnect here. I’m not sure if (the governor) knows what the labs are doing,” Gabelsberg said.
Gabelsberg said she’s asymptomatic, but worries that she could be infected and inadvertently spread the deadly virus to other people.
She thought it would be easy to get screened based on Stitt’s promises that anyone can get a test.
“We expected that this would be no problem,” she said. “I think they need to update their information that they’re sending out to the public.”
Easy access is not true, she said.
“I am sorry that we’re not able to set an appointment for the next few days,” said Maggie Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Garfield County Health Department.
“We have the testing supplies but would not be able to send the tests to a lab,” she said. “That would delay the response or cause storage issues, so we’re waiting on the green light from the labs.”
She said her department alone collected more than 500 samples last week from long-term care facilities in Garfield County.
She said some state labs reported receiving as many as 2,000 samples a day from across the state. On Monday, Stitt said testing increased 50% week-over-week and touted declining infection rates.
Jackson urged people who want testing to continue to call her office. Health officials will take their contact information and reach out as soon as testing can resume.
“We have the supplies and are ready to go as soon as they let us open the doors,” she said.
Enid News & Eagle reporter Violet Hassler contributed to this report.