COVID-19 testing shortages nationwide have been a significant issue. Nevada is now one of several states that have notified the Food and Drug Administration that it’s making modifications to the test in an effort to mitigate shortages statewide.
Dr. Mark Pandori heads the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory. He talked with KUNR’s Anh Gray to break down the process involved in the development of the modified test.
Gray: What is the timeline for modifying the COVID-19 test?
Pandori: We've already started working on a 'new test.' We're taking the CDC tests that we originally have been offering and we're modifying a portion of it to allow for additional brands and vendors of chemicals and reagents to be utilized, because that will allow us to work around supply issues, which are being seen for testing nationwide. We've initiated those studies and when we have enough data regarding some of these new options for other products, we will submit them to the state of Nevada for assessment.
Gray: How will you evaluate whether the chemical components you're using are effective?
Padori: We are doing that here in the laboratory at the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory. We're not only running patient specimens, but we are simultaneous to that, evaluating additional products. We're at the hands of science here, so we're letting our scientific analysis of these other products be the dictator of whether or not we use those products. So if the results come out that these products can be used and result in a test which is of extremely high quality, which is our standard, then we will go ahead and do that. What I'm saying is it really depends on how the data turns out.
Gray: What are you learning so far?
Pandori: What we're learning is when people say there's a test kit, it's actually a lot of ingredients that go into a test kit. One of these ingredients that's on the front-end of the test is at very low supply nationwide and that's causing what you might be hearing in terms of some testing shortages. What we're finding is that there are products on the market that can accomplish that front-end of testing very well and quite accurately and effectively, but we want to make sure we get enough data to be sure of that. The process on the front-end of testing [is] called extraction and it does appear that there may be many other vendors and brands of products that can accomplish that very well. If that's the case, then it should alleviate testing shortages for anybody that wants to use those products.
Gray: We've also been hearing that one of the shortages medical providers are experiencing are the materials used in the collection of specimen, for example, swabs.
Pandori: There are shortages of everything all around the country. I don't think that's a secret or a surprise. You've heard it so many times and it is true. There's labs that have test kit shortages and then there's clinics that had collection kit shortages. So all of those things are true. Earlier when we were talking about the Nevada system evaluating products, that was an effort — at least for labs in Nevada — to be able to navigate around testing inventory issues. As we said, now with regard to collection kits, that's another challenge. And yeah, it's not a secret that clinics are running low on collection kits. The FDA is offering some alternatives to aid relief. So things like using saline instead of the specialized collection liquids, and then perhaps other brands of swabs and things of that nature. We are definitely low on these things and that may have an impact on testing.