OKLAHOMA CITY — Hospitals are being urged to use rapid COVID-19 tests sparingly as the state begins to experience the effects of a nationwide shortage.

Keith Reed, Oklahoma State Department of Health deputy commissioner, said a national increase in COVID-19 rapid testing demand is causing supply chain issues across the country. His agency has begun hearing reports of limited access to the COVID-19 tests across Oklahoma.

“OSDH is pivoting to get supplies from other providers so that we can keep up with the increase in demand we are seeing,” he said.

Rapid tests are in particular demand right now because they provide results within minutes. Traditional COVID-19 testing options, known as PCR, often require an outside laboratory to process, and it can take days to get a result.

Reed said the health department is also working to launch an optional school-testing program that will provide personal protective equipment and testing resources to Oklahoma schools.

“We hope to see this shift some of the burden away from some areas that may be experiencing more strain on their testing supplies,” Reed said. “We appreciate Oklahomans proactively seeking testing as they experience symptoms, and ask for patience as we continue to work with our partners to find solutions that will ensure you will have access to testing when you need it.”

On Thursday, state health officials reported 2,462 new COVID-19 cases, bringing Oklahoma’s seven-day average to 2,416. The health department said there have been 9,415 related deaths. More than 1,500 people remained hospitalized.

The main manufacturer of the rapid tests shut down several of its manufacturing plants ahead of the delta surge, which has led to the national shortage, said Patrice Greenawalt, the clinical initiatives manager for the Oklahoma Hospital Association. She said the manufacturer is reportedly ramping production back up, but in the meantime hasn’t been able to keep up with the demand.

Greenawalt said there are other options for testing, but to help mitigate the rapid testing shortage, hospitals should consider being selective in using rapid tests.

She said not everybody needs rapid test results. The need depends on symptoms, the severity of symptoms and whether someone is going to be admitted to the hospital. Patients that need to be transferred to a higher level of care may also need immediate results.

“I don’t have great options in terms of immediate results,” she said. “Until the supply chain opens up, there are limits.”

Last week, a spokeswoman for McAlester Regional Medical Center reported that the southeastern Oklahoma hospital had run out of COVID-19 rapid test kits following a local and statewide case spike. The hospital said it could still administer COVID-19 tests, but the results would come in three to five days.

County officials, meanwhile, urged residents to avoid the emergency room and seek out non-emergent health locations to get tested. Those locations include pharmacies, the county health department, and several health clinics, including two run by the Choctaw Nation.

A spokeswoman on Thursday said the hospital has received a shipment of 700 rapid tests this week, and expects to receive 1,000 more soon. The hospital has about 1,500 standard COVID-19 test kits on hand.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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