South Carolina VA Hospital Touts Quick Coronavirus Test Turnaround

But limited testing capability undermines its boasts …

A Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in Columbia, South Carolina is touting its ability to deliver 24-hour test results for individuals believed to be suffering from the 2019-2020 coronavirus. The only problem? The hospital’s public relations push only highlighted the extent to which such testing is severely limited.

Sort of like the anemic testing being conducted across the Palmetto State …

The 24-hour turnaround tests were touted by officials at the Columbia, S.C. VA health care earlier this week as a “game changer.”

“We can have test results in about an hour,” the health care system’s lab chief, Jailan Osman, declared.

Interesting … because the last time we checked, prompt service was not the hallmark of the VA hospital system (including the Dorn Veterans Hospital in Columbia, S.C.).

Previously, the VA lab in Columbia had been sending all of its samples to either the public health laboratory at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) – the agency leading the Palmetto State’s response to the global pandemic – or to private sector provider Quest Diagnostics.

As we have previously reported, though, SCDHEC has been dealing with critical shortages in testing supplies – creating huge backlogs in its own testing capability.

On Sunday, March 29, 2020, the VA lab was cleared to begin conducting its own tests. And through a “nationwide contract,” the Columbia VA health care center (and other VA facilities across the nation) were set to receive coronavirus test kits.

Good news, right?

Sort of …

The agency’s press release was humming along swimmingly right up until the point it referenced the number of tests being provided.

“As of right now, the Columbia VA is limited to receiving 30 kits a week,” the release noted. “With a limited number of testing kits, protocols have been put into place to test only the most critical inpatients at the (William) Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center.”

Thirty test kits a week?

For those of you keeping score at home, South Carolina is home to nearly 400,000 veterans – comprising nearly one-tenth of its entire adult population. That ranks the state ninth nationally in terms of the size of its veteran population. Also, an estimated 40 percent of that population – roughly 160,000 veterans – are over the age of sixty-five.

Are thirty tests a week even going to come close to meeting that need?

Even if we focus only on the most vulnerable segments of that population?

As of this writing, SCDHEC has reported 1,293 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Palmetto State. Twenty-six (26) South Carolinians have died as a result of complications from the virus. It is not clear how many of those confirmed cases and deaths involve veterans. And again, according to the latest data from the COVID Tracking Project, the Palmetto State still ranks No. 48 out of fifty states in terms of the percentage of its population getting tested.

Also worth noting? The peak of the virus is expected to hit South Carolina in late April, gradually winding down during May and into the first week of June. In other words, based on current supplies, the VA is only likely to be able to conduct 300 or so tests during that time period.

Don’t get us wrong: The more people who get tested the more we know just what we are up against with this virus. But the VA testing amounts to little more than a rounding error. And we are scared to even think of the price per test associated with the “nationwide contract” the VA signed.


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