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Arizona loosening up criteria for COVID-19 testing

An increase in the availability of protective gear and testing supplies has led Arizona authorities to expand the guidelines for testing people for coronavirus — "anyone who thinks they have been exposed" to the virus and thinks they may be infected is now eligible.

The shift in testing standards was announced Thursday in a blog post by Cara Christ, head of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

While there are still shortages of personal protective equipment and test collection kits, "the supply chain is opening up," Christ said.

Until now, testing in Arizona has been limited to "high-risk individual" under Centers for Disease Control guidelines. Many people have been severely symptomatic and yet unable to obtain a test, instead being advised by doctors to self-isolate at home unless their conditions became life-threatening.

The updated state guidelines remove restrictions about symptoms — tests can now be made available to "anyone who thinks they have been exposed to and could be infected with COVID-19," Christ said.

The availability of tests is still subject to an individual laboratory having "adequate testing supplies and PPE," she said.

"We know that rapidly identifying cases, case follow up, and contact tracing will help slow the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities. Success in these areas requires an increase in our testing capacity," Christ said.

"Luckily, we know there is additional capacity at our laboratories across the state to test more Arizonans," wrote the state health chief. "Laboratories like Sonora Quest, Arizona State University, and Mayo Clinic have indicated they have the ability to run more tests, and we are fortunate to have partners like them in our community. However, up until now, the limited supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and test collection supplies, such as nasal swabs and viral transport media, has been a significant barrier to increased testing. Arizona is not alone; there continues to be a national shortage of those supplies. The good news is that our partners have indicated they are now able to obtain the supplies needed to perform additional testing because the supply chain is opening up."

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ADHS has "distributed 15 rapid testing machines throughout the state that are able to provide results within 15 minutes and we continue to work with our federal partners to get additional testing kits to support these machines," she said.

Christ issued a caution about "serology" testing, which examines a blood sample for the presence of antibodies.

"We have also been working with partner labs that are discussing serology testing, commonly referred to as antibody testing. Serologic tests are laboratory tests that look for the presence of antibodies, which are made by the body in response to an infection. Many factors affect the results of serologic testing and how these results should be interpreted. At this time, it is unknown if a positive serologic test for COVID-19 means that someone is immune to COVID-19 or how long that immunity might last," she said. "In the future, we’re hoping that serology testing will be an important tool for screening for prior infection, especially for our healthcare workers and first responders. ADHS will continue to monitor research in this area and make recommendations as evidence becomes available."

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