Even as Alabama moves to lift more coronavirus restrictions, a Harvard University research team argues the states is testing far fewer people than necessary to ensure a safe reopening.
The group from Harvard’s Global Health Institute recently projected how many tests each state would need. For Alabama, the number needed each day as of Friday was 8,817. The actual daily average was just 4,152. That means doubling the number wouldn’t even hit the benchmark.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and state Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris both said Thursday that they would like to increase capacity. But both said they are comfortable with the current levels, given how the percentage of people testing positive has fallen.
“I don’t know that we can ever do too much testing,” Ivey said at a news conference announcing that she was lifting more restrictions imposed to slow the novel coronavirus. “But we’ve certainly increased the amount of testing.”
Harris told reporters that the state mostly is complying with testing guidelines set forth by the White House.
“We always wish we could improve that. We have made a lot of improvement in testing,” he said. “The goal that we have been striving for, based on the White House guidance recently is trying to test around 2 percent of the population. We’re actually meeting that goal in all but about 10 or 12 counties in the state.”
Harris said more testing is needed in rural areas to be able to quickly respond to outbreaks.
“We continue to look for ways to do that,” he said.
Rendi Murphree, the top epidemiologist at the Mobile County Health Department, told FOX10 News that there is plenty of testing capacity locally.
“You know, some testing locations have sort of notoriously … closed down because they didn't have enough patients seeking testing,” she said. “The Walmart location in Saraland restricted to just three days a week and I think just a couple hours a day. So right now, we have plenty of capacity for testing.”
That excess capacity is evident by the fact that criteria for who can get a test have been loosened. At eight test sites run by the Mobile County Health Department, people can get tested even if they have no symptoms. The department asks that people call 251-690-8889 to make an appointment.
The county Health Department recently began reporting the number of asymptomatic people who have tested positive for the disease. Thursday, that number was 159. And the state Health Department reports that as of May 15, 3,699 people who tested positive either never had symptoms or no longer did by the time they took the test.
“We just want to make sure that … demand doesn't exceed capacity and so far, we have not seen that,” Murphree said.
Even with a sharp increase in the number of tests performed each day, she said, “We have not seen a parallel rise in the number of positive cases. So I think that's the great news, is that we far exceed our capacity for testing.”