Sedgwick County plans to offer a rapid response saliva test to detect COVID-19 beginning next week.
The test will be available at the county’s drive-thru testing location in east Wichita and at mobile outreach testing sites. The county will also continue to offer the nasopharyngeal swab sampling it has conducted since March.
Deputy County Manager Tim Kaufman says a few other sites like nursing homes will also have the saliva test available in the first phase of the rollout. The plan is to gradually provide the test to health clinics that do COVID-19 sampling.
“We want to do it in a thoughtful, careful way so that we don’t overwhelm the system,” Kaufman says.
The county is working with Clinical Reference Laboratory in Lenexa to process saliva samples. The lab says test results are generally available in 24-48 hours after it receives a saliva sample.
The county entered into an agreement with the Lenexa lab and Wichita State University in mid-August. Kaufman says it’s an effort to increase COVID-19 testing capabilities and local lab capacity in Sedgwick County to get results faster.
He says the Wichita State lab is expected to begin processing the county’s saliva and nasal swab tests in early October. The county is using up to $1.5 million of its CARES Act funding to reimburse WSU for expenses that have already been incurred.
Kaufman says at that point, the county and local health providers should be able to meet a goal of testing 2,234 people a day. Currently, an average of 800 tests or fewer is being done in Sedgwick County.
“We’ll have a much broader array of different places where individuals will be able to go,” Kaufman says.
Sedgwick County continues to limit its free testing to symptomatic residents and people in high-priority professions like healthcare, corrections, first responders and school employees like teachers and bus drivers.
Health Director Adrienne Byrne says there is no plan to resume testing on asymptomatic people. The county opened testing to anyone regardless of symptoms in June, but was quickly overwhelmed and went back to using criteria to determine test eligibility.
Byrne says most of Sedgwick County’s COVID-19 recovery metrics are stable or decreasing. The number of new cases, hospitalizations and the overall percent positive test rate all went down in August.
The county is tracking community spread of COVID-19 with a new percent positive test rate that does not include cases linked to clusters at residential facilities. Data shows that the positivity rate went from about 10% at the start of August down to about 7% by the end of the month.
School districts rely on the county metrics to make decisions about in-person classes and extracurricular activities.
The county’s latest health order requiring masks and limitations for bars and nightclubs expires next week.