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Boise State Public Radio News is here to keep you current on the news surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Idaho Governor Celebrates Testing Strategy, But Questions About Implementation Remain

Courtesy of St. Luke's Health System

Idaho’s wishlist for expanding coronavirus testing is long. But since releasing a testing strategy more than a week ago, the state hasn’t provided much clarity on how it will get all the tests it will need.





Gov. Brad Little said during his press conference last Thursday that Vice President Mike Pence had celebrated Idaho’s testing strategy. 


“They’re enthusiastic about what we’ve got because we’ve got a real good roadmap on, as capacity becomes available, where do we put that capacity to address the longterm needs of the state,” Little said.


The testing strategy goes into great detail on which groups should be prioritized for testing, what types of tests they should get and how quickly it’s necessary for the test results to come back for that specific group. 


Symptomatic healthcare workers and critical infrastructure workers fall into the highest priority category, as do asymptomatic residents and staff coming in and out of long-term care facilities. The state also lists broadening testing outreach among Latinos and Native American tribes as a top priority. 


Testing everyone in the first priority group would mean roughly 17,000 tests per week, according to the testing task force. To test everyone — all priority groups — would require about 150,000 tests per week.


The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said the state had received 40,000 test kits from the federal government for the month of May, and is supposed to receive that many for June, too. 


When asked at the press conference how Idaho would bridge the gap between who it thought should be tested and how many tests are available, Gov. Little said the state has been acquiring personal protective equipment, which helps protect healthcare workers to administer tests. 


He also said the infrastructure for testing will continue to be hospitals and other private entities like drug chains. Some hospitals do not have the testing capacity to broadly expand their testing regimens, though. 


Dr. Kenneth Krell is a critical care physician at the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. Krell said the Idaho Falls hospital has enough tests for its patients and for people who present with symptoms, but not enough for everyone the state would like to prioritize, including most asymptomatic people.


“The problem is, is I don’t see where those tests are going to come from,” he said. 


Krell ultimately thinks the boost in testing supply needs to come from the federal government because he said it’s difficult for states, let alone individual health systems, to access a vast amount of supplies. 


Gov. Little also added that he’d like every school teacher to get a saliva test before returning to the classroom, and maybe jury pools, too, to get trials back on track. When asked who is paying for the increased testing, Little gave insurers and employers as examples. 


“There’s probably a dozen different sources of revenue to pay for the testing,” he said. 


In the last week, Idaho added about 5,200 coronavirus tests to the state total, a few hundred more than the week before. 


Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen 

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As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.