LAS VEGAS (AP) — Gov. Steve Sisolak says Nevada has received some parts from the federal government to make more test kits for the coronavirus but the state does not have anywhere near the supplies needed to test widely.
Amid a nationwide shorting of test kits for the coronavirus, the U.S. government has told Nevada its three pending requests for more kits are on an “indefinite backlog,” according to state officials.
Sisolak said at a news conference Monday night that the state received 3,000 kits of the chemicals needed and 4,000 swabs from the U.S. government, which state health labs are using with other supplies to assemble test kits as fast they can, but it’s not enough.
“While we appreciate whatever testing components we get from the federal government, at this time,” the Democratic governor said, the supplies so far “are not nearly the volume necessary for us to perform the desired amount of testing that we want and our citizens want.”
Nevada, which has a population of over 3 million people, has had less than 19,000 people tested for the virus so far, or .006 of the state’s population, through either government or commercial labs.
So far, more than 2,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Nevada and 58 people have died.
Most people with the virus experience mild or moderate fever and coughing for two to three weeks. Some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, can face severe illness including pneumonia and death.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in an effort to speed up and expand testing in the country, has said it will allow state health departments to begin self-regulating and approving tests for the virus.
Nevada received permission from the FDA on March 23 to start reviewing and approving newly developed tests, but the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the state health lab, did not respond to multiple inquiries about the status of any new tests. Spokeswoman Shannon Litz said in an email that the state created a policy about approving new tests but did not offer more information about whether any new tests were being developed.
With tests in short supply, the state has asked doctors and health officials to prioritize testing for those hospitalized with symptoms of the virus, along with those who work in health care or public safety or people who were in group settings like schools, shelters and institutions where the virus could spread more quickly.
Stephanie Bethel, a spokeswoman for the Southern Nevada Health District, said the Las Vegas-area health district has recommended that doctors prioritize patients considered higher risk. The health district is also asking doctors who seek testing for their patients to have those patients tested through commercial labs. The health district is separately testing close contacts of people who have already tested positive for COVID-19.
Bethel said the southern Nevada lab’s inventory changes, but as of Monday it had the ability to test 100 samples.
The medical school of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which has used its clinical operations to run a curbside testing service for two weeks, said Monday that it received 250 nasal swab test kits from the private lab company it had partnered with, allowing it to continue testing prescreened patients at least through Thursday.
UNLV Medicine President and CEO Dr. Michael Gardner said the drive-up testing center is still only able to help with a slice of the need in the community.
“If there were adequate testing available, we’d probably need four or five of these,” he said.
In other developments:
— About 50 Nevada National Guard members began work with the Southern Nevada Health District in a warehouse area at the Las Vegas Convention Center to receive, sort and distribute to medical centers materials for use in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Lt. Col. Mickey Kirschenbaum said a similar-sized contingent was gearing up operations in the Reno area. Sisolak activated the Guard last week to speed logistics and delivery of medical supplies and make Nevada eligible for additional federal funding.
— State lawmakers approved some $8.25 million for the coronavirus response, including $6.25 million to buy and distribute COVID-19 testing kits and masks, gloves and gowns to protect health care workers. The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, meeting by videoconference, also allocated $2 million in attorney general settlement funds toward helping renters avoid eviction. The governor last month placed a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions.
This story has been corrected to show that Nevada received permission from the FDA on March 23, not March 24.
Associated Press writer Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
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