(INDIANAPOLIS) – Less than 1% of Americans have been tested for coronavirus, in part because the testing kits are scarce. There are lots of reasons why that’s the case.
Testing for coronavirus isn’t like a routine blood or urine sample — it uses the same technique police use for DNA evidence to copy a strand of genetic material until there’s enough of it to read. For coronavirus, labs extract RNA from the sample from a nasal swab to search for the virus’s genetic signature. Doing that requires a cocktail of chemicals — a different combination depending on what kind of equipment the lab is using.
Shandy Dearth, undergrad epidemiology education director for IUPUI’s Fairbanks School of Public
Health, says a delay of several weeks before the federal government approved a test, put production of those chemicals behind the demand. And Dearth says the extra-long swabs themselves are in short supply, because the leading manufacturer is in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic.
And Dearth notes testing requires the same masks and gloves which doctors and nurses already need for treating patients. She says protective gear for hospitals takes priority.
Indiana has mostly limited testing to health care workers, long-term care facilities, and people who are already seriously ill, to get the most mileage out of its testing capacity.