Is Cass County testing enough cases of coronavirus? The working group defends a targeted strategy

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The focus of testing remains on vulnerable populations, including residents and nursing home employees, health care workers, law enforcement agencies and assembly line workers. But the resumption of mass testing reflects the fact that North Dakota’s laboratory testing capability — now capable of analyzing more than 4,000 specimens per day — is often underutilized, which is considered a harm to contain the virus by identifying carriers.

In addition to trying to stimulate testing, health officials hope that people who have participated in recent street protests or who have attended graduations, weddings, funerals or other gatherings will take advantage of the opportunities for mass testing.

Further Fargodome test events will be scheduled over the next two weeks, and similar events are planned for Bismarck, Grand Forks and Minot.

Dozens of vehicles line up for driving tests for COVID-19 on Thursday, June 11, at the Fargodome. Tests conducted by the North Dakota Department of Health and the North Dakota National Guard were also conducted Friday. David Samson / The Forum

Dozens of vehicles line up for driving tests for COVID-19 on Thursday, June 11, at the Fargodome. Tests conducted by the North Dakota Department of Health and the North Dakota National Guard were also conducted Friday. David Samson / The Forum

Governor Doug Burgum said it is essential to maintain a high level of testing, followed by research and isolating close contacts of infected people, to allow businesses and society to continue to reopen.

“Testing is a tool that allows us to move in that direction,” he said.

But fewer people have been looking for tests, the governor said. “There has been a drop in demand for people who want to be tested,” he said. “We need to make sure we keep an eye on the tests.”

The governor said Fargo, the North Dakota coronavirus hot spot, will get all the test supplies it needs.

“E can say right now that they’re not going to run out because if they run out, we’ll have rained,” he said. “We want to keep things open.”

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Mass testing is part of surveillance tests, where large segments of the population are tested to measure the spread of the virus.

By the end of this week, before the results of the mass tests in Fargo were available, Cass County accounted for 66.6% of infections and 25.7% of total tests, a gap that drew criticism and prompted the formation of the Red River Valley COVID-19 Task Force in early May.

The Hazlet, a retired electrical engineer in Fargo, has been a persistent critic of what he says is the failure of the test volume in Cass County that matches the scope of infections.

Hazlet, who is monitoring tests in Cass County relative to the state level, said the volume of testing in the county is still lagging behind the state as a whole, even though the overwhelming majority of infections continue to occur in Cass County.

Over a 14-day period ending June 8, Cass County accounted for 73 percent of new coronavirus infections, but only 28 percent of new tests, according to Hazlet’s tally released by the North Dakota Department of Health.

“The big problem is here,” he said. “Most of the tests are done elsewhere.”

Holly Scott, a spokeswoman for Fargo Cass Public Health, said the task force believes the volume of testing in Cass County is adequate. Local officials said the number of cases in Cass County is higher because they aggressively target vulnerable populations.

The number of daily tests conducted in Cass County, in one example cited by Scott, ranged from 1,192 to 2,000.

“In the interest of protecting privacy and confidentiality, the task force has stated that it will not publish event test numbers,” she said, to conduct tests in some workplaces or to group living environments.

“Test numbers vary daily for a number of reasons, including facility schedules and staff availability to attend,” Scott said. “The task force is not concerned that testing priorities will not be met.”

The North Dakota Department of Health and the North Dakota National Guard are conducting drive-up tests for COVID-19 on Thursday, June 11 at the Fargodome. David Samson / The Forum

The North Dakota Department of Health and the North Dakota National Guard are conducting drive-up tests for COVID-19 on Thursday, June 11 at the Fargodome. David Samson / The Forum

Chad Peterson, chair of the Cass County Commission and a member of the task force, defended the task force’s trial effort.

“I think we’re doing very well, but the intention is to increase capacity over time,” he said.

Tests cannot exceed the laboratory capacity to analyze specimens, Peterson said. If a backlog develops, the results will not be available quickly, hampering efforts to close the gap.

“Right why we’re so high in Cass is because we’re targeting,” he says. We’re doing a good job of finding out who might be sick. »

The number of confirmed cases in Cass County has recently leveled, an indication that the approach is working, Peterson said.

“I think we’re doing a good job,” he said. “We’re not on the rise anymore.”

In addition, he said, the number of hospital cases remains stable and well-established, another positive sign.

Is the task force concerned about another peak or a second wave? More than 20 states that have decided to reopen their economies are seeing infections increase, with pockets of surges.

“I don’t know if worry is the right word,” Peterson said. “we are all concerned about this.”

If a second wave arrives, as many epidemiologists warn is likely, everyone will be better prepared, he said. Meanwhile, officials must be careful as they move to reopen.

“We have to slow down cel,” Peterson said.

Cass County monitors trends in coronavirus testing and regularly sends reports to task force members and local officials.

“The daily number seems to be shrinking,” said Ben Prather, director of Cass County Vector Control, which monitors test numbers.

New cumulative and daily positive cases appear to be decreasing, he said. “It looks like we’re on the bea,” Prather said.

The New York Times lists Fargo as a city “where there may be good news to come.” Fargo ranked fourth among the cities with the largest drop in new cases in the week ended June 9.

Fargo had 449 new cases in the week ending June 9, down from 668 new cases the previous week, down 97.4 per 100,000 residents, according to the Times analysis.

In addition, Fargo was on the newspaper’s list of cities where new deaths are falling the most. In the week ending June 9, Fargo saw 23 deaths compared to 25 the previous week, a decrease of 0.8 per 100,000 residents.

While Cass County’s infection rate continues to exceed the statewide rate, both continue to decline gradually, according to Burgum figures presented in its briefing this week.

In Cass County, the percentage of those who tested positive for coronavirus decreased from 6.5% on May 28 to 3.6% as of June 9, he said, adding that the task force continues to “fight this on the ground.”

The infection rate in Cass County and new cases are lower than in most comparable regions across the country, Burgum said.

The positive rate across the state rose from 2.6% at the end of May to 1.5%, Burgum said.

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