Rapid COVID-19 Testing Remains Limited In Cleveland Area

UH and Cleveland Clinic are waiting for rapid testing kits [CrispyPork/ shutterstock]
UH and Cleveland Clinic are waiting for rapid COVID-19 testing kits. [CrispyPork/ Shutterstock]

President Trump announced this week that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new test for COVID-19 that could provide results in as little as five minutes.

Cleveland hospitals officials, however, say it is unclear when a rapid test, like the one described by the president, will be widely available for local residents.

The testing landscape in Northeast Ohio is evolving, said Dr. Christine Schmotzer, chief of clinical pathology at University Hospitals.

UH has acquired a test from a national vendor, which is easier to use and faster than those which were being used to diagnose patients just two weeks ago, she said.

“We have multiple different vendors who have test kits. One of the vendors that we have, they started distributing kits to us last week and we are implementing them, but we are not able to get as many from them as we would like to,” Schmotzer said.

The rapid test that UH is using provides results in about 90 minutes, which is much quicker than what UH had been using to diagnose COVID-19, she said.

Because the supply of new rapid testing kits is limited, UH is using them only to help quickly diagnose patients who are in the ER or patients in the hospital. The tests are not being used for the general population right now, she said.

Cleveland Clinic officials said they also do not have any of the rapid tests mentioned by President Trump for use locally.

“We hope to have this as the order has been placed. We do not know when the test will arrive for validation or how many we will get so we don’t have specifics yet,” said clinic spokesperson Halle Bishop by email.

The companies who are developing these new rapid tests are in many ways in the driver’s seat, Schmotzer said. Large companies like Roche and Abbott have developed their own testing methods and are prioritizing offering the testing kits to their existing clients to get the tests out of the door as fast as possible, she said.

The test manufacturers are also prioritizing getting kits to hot spot areas in the country with the most need.

“Because COVID is ramping up at different rates in different areas of the country, they are taking into consideration some of the hardest hit areas, who already have their testing equipment and shunting extra tests and extra resources there first,” Schmotzer said.

The rapid tests, when they are more widely available, will help hospitals manage patients with the coronavirus in several ways, she said.

“It’s important to know that when they are being admitted or when they are an inpatient so that you can quickly make sure you have the appropriate protective equipment for the staff taking care of them,” she said.

Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals announced this week that first responders, such as police and EMS workers, will now be prioritized to received COVID-19 tests along with hospital staff and people are sick in hospitals. 

In addition to creating faster tests for hospital use, several national companies are also racing to provide at-home tests for the coronavirus.

The FDA, however, released a statement saying: “We want to alert the American public that, at this time, the FDA has not authorized any test that is available to purchase for testing yourself at home for COVID-19.” 

The agency expressed concern that some of the tests being marketed to consumers are fraudulent and may provide inaccurate results.

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