OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma is entering into a new partnership with a private COVID-19 testing laboratory amid the ongoing shortage in public testing kits.
State health officials said Friday they shipped more than 300 test specimens to Diagnostic Labs of Oklahoma’s facility in Dallas. Results should be available in a couple of days.
“The state is committed to expanding testing and result capacity by building out more public-private partnerships here at home and across the United States,” said Gary Cox, state health commissioner, in a statement. “Thanks to action taken at the federal level, we are expecting more supplies to come online in the coming days to support our efforts.”
Officials said the partnership will allow testing results to be processed within two or three days. It also will allow the state to prioritize its dwindling in-house testing kits so results can be delivered within 24 hours for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable populations.
“As this new public-private lab partnership expands Oklahoma’s capacity to deliver timely results, it will allow the OSDH, county health departments, hospitals, health care providers and others begin pursuing innovative options for increasing access to COVID-19 testing,” Cox said.
Charlie Hannema, a spokesman for Gov. Kevin Stitt, said Friday the governor has been in touch with the state’s research universities and “has challenged them to develop any solutions (to coronavirus) that can help Oklahomans.”
As part of those conversations, Stitt has urged the universities to develop testing kits, he said.
Oklahoma health officials said they’ve ordered 500 testing kits — the maximum supply allotted to the state — from the federal government, but officials won’t give them an arrival date amid a national shortage and surging demand.
Many states like New York and California developed their own tests by partnering with their own universities to boost testing supplies. Oklahoma hasn’t done that. Federal laws prohibit sharing university-developed tests between states.
Test kits are critical because clinicians swab patients who are suspected of having the virus. Those samples are then sent to the public health lab in Oklahoma City for processing. The test kits are needed to confirm the presence of COVID-19. Without kits, samples cannot get tested.
Testing helps prevent community spread. It can detect the virus even in those who aren't showing symptoms and helps officials monitor and track cases.
As of Friday morning, the number of confirmed cases had ticked upward slightly to 49. Health officials said at least one case was reported in 14 different counties.
On Thursday, health officials said a handful of COVID-19 public test kits remained. Those would be allocated to the most vulnerable Oklahomans.
It wasn’t immediately clear Friday whether either the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University was working to help expand the state’s testing capabilities.
In an email, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center said it has partnered with a biotechnical company and is working toward developing a vaccine for COVID-19.
A spokeswoman with Oklahoma State University didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.