Health experts, state lawmakers say more needs to be done for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing

Health experts, state lawmakers say more needs to be done for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Testing and contact tracing continues to play a central role in combatting the spread of COVID-19.

On Wednesday, legislators heard testimony from the interim director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control as well as state and private healthcare leaders about where the state stands on testing and contact tracing during the Testing and Tracing subcommittee meeting for the Re-Open South Carolina Select Committee.

DHEC officials said South Carolina has made huge strides when it comes to testing, and that right now they are on target to test more than 5% of the population this month, but Dr. Joan Duwve, the director of public health for DHEC, said she believes DHEC can do more and is working to accomplish more widespread testing.

“We need to be moving testing goals, we need to increase them,” Dr. Duwve said.

Dr. Duwve said many states are testing 10% of their populations.

“I think for me, that is a goal I would like to set by the end of the year,” Dr. Duwve said.

That would mean doubling the amount of testing that is currently happening in South Carolina, but it’s something lawmakers said they wanted to see happen.

“While individuals have been working hard to be successful in this effort, we have not been successful to the level we need to be in this state to tackle this virus, everyone knows it, we need to admit it. Going from 46th to 33rd in testing is great improvement but we need to be in the top 10, we need you to tell us what we need to do to get into the top 10 in this country,” Senator Vincent Sheheen, District 27, said.

Dr. Duwve said DHEC is planning to hire 1,000 specimen collectors to reduce the turnaround time of getting results to people, as well as hold more than 150 mobile testing clinics over the next month for an average of more than 12 testing events a day.

“The new plan will ensure every county in the state at least once a week,” Dr. Duwve

Dr. Duwve said they now have more than 500 contact tracers on staff, but admitted that some of their methods for contacting cases are outdated. She added that hospitals and labs are struggling with having enough staff, PPE, and testing reagents to complete tests.

Officials with the South Carolina Hospital Association and the MUSC said that increasing hospital capacity and staff shortages are straining the hospital’s ability to assist in testing.

“It’s been quite a rough period of time and as their workforces are impacted by COVID, they might not be as able to provide staff for testing,” Melanie Matney, the South Carolina Hospital Association Chief Operating Officer, said.

Lawmakers said they will bring the funding, but they want to see greater organization and collaboration among agencies.

“I think it is imperative that part of our strategy going forward does have someone who can accept ultimate responsibility for whether we hit these goals,” Senator Tom Davis said.

Both South Carolina National Guard and the SC hospital Association leaders said they want to see DHEC as the leader for coordinating contact tracing and testing. The subcommittee will meet again on Tuesday to look at strategies for reporting methods of positive cases and ways to suppress and slow the spread of the virus.

Copyright 2020 WIS. All rights reserved.