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State Epidemiologist Says Coronavirus Testing Is Expanding

Administrative building facade
Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

As of Friday afternoon, more than 80 people in Virginia were hospitalized for coronavirus. Fourteen people have died. Whittney Evans spoke to state epidemiologist, Lillian Peake about how Virginia’s health care system is holding up under the weight of this epidemic. 


Evans: Good morning, thank you so much for speaking with me Dr. Peake, how are you?

Peake: I’m fine, thanks. 

Evans: My first question is how prepared are Virginia hospitals right now for what’s expected to come, especially in terms of bed capacity and supplies like face masks and respirators?

Peake: So in Virginia, we’ve been working on pandemic planning for many years and hospitals have been involved in those efforts as well. When this virus first started circulating, healthcare systems took that seriously. And they are looking at how to prepare. They’re looking at a lot of creative solutions to deal with the surge that will be needed. So I know that is going on around the state. Every day they’re working hard to prepare.  

Evans: But are we prepared and are there certain hospitals or health systems that are more prepared than others?

Peake: So we have a healthcare coordination workgroup under the commonwealth and they are sharing information. They are looking at supplies. I think that they’re using the plans that they had in place and they’re building on them. And then the state is tracking different needs. And they’re working closely with healthcare systems to be able to work together through this. I think we are continuing to improve. And we’ll continue to deal with what happens every day so we can continue to improve. 

Evans: So what’s Virginia’s current capacity for the number of patients it can test per day?

Peake: So right now, a lot of private labs are coming on board and they’re expanding. We heard this week about increased capacity at UVA and VCU. So we don’t have one number for the testing capacity in Virginia. What we know is that the number of tests are increasing. Access to tests is increasing. And hopefully we’ll stay on that trajectory. 

Evans: One analysis from the media outlet Vox says Virginia ranks in the bottom third in the U.S. for testing per million people. Right now, we’re only testing the most at-risk patients. Are there any plans to loosen the restrictions on who gets tested?

Peake: The testing criteria are set for the state lab but there aren’t restrictions on testing through private labs. Other states are ahead of where we are. They have more cases. In Washington state, California, New York and some other areas they have many more cases than we do. And a lot of the testing was prioritized for those states. As we identified cases in the beginning, we have had tests for those people and the testing will continue to increase. We’ll just continue to monitore this situation and use the resources that we have as best that we can. 

Evans: Medical experts say contact tracing or tracking down anyone who has been in contact with an infected person is really vital to public health during an outbreak. Does VDH currently do this and will you if not?

Peake: So we have been identifying the cases and interviewing them and then identifiying who their contacts are and doing that contact tracing. That’s been going on from the very beginning. At some point, usually there is a shift to, because the risk is not just from an individual but it’s spreading in the community that you go to different types of public health tracking, but right now we are doing that contract tracing.

Evans: Thank you so much Dr. Peake. I really appreciate you taking the time. 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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