Washoe County temporarily suspends asymptomatic virus tests

June 18, 2020 GMT

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Washoe County has temporarily suspended COVID-19 testing of most people with no symptoms because of a backlog of test samples at the state lab caused in part by increased testing of inmates at state institutions.

The number of new cases reported statewide Wednesday dropped sharply from the peak number of 379 new cases on Monday to 184 on Tuesday. Before Monday, the largest one-day increase had been 295 cases on May 22.

Washoe County began testing asymptomatic people on June 1 and had been ramping up those tests since, but has suspended them until next week due to the state lab backlog, County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said Wednesday in Reno. Vulnerable populations continue to be tested whether they have symptoms or not.

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Dick said the county is still awaiting results of tests sent to the lab Friday, and warned a recent drop in daily positive cases may be tied to that delay. Washoe County reported only seven new cases Wednesday and 16 cases Tuesday after registering its biggest single day increase of 61 last Thursday.

New daily cases statewide ranged between 227 and 277 from June 10-13. Nevada now has more than 11,800 positive cases and 473 deaths tied to COVID-19.

Gov. Steve Sisolak continues to rely on expanded testing to justify guidelines that’ve allowed Nevada to gradually reopen. In response to the Washoe County announcement, state public health officials blasted Dick for suspending efforts to test asymptomatic individuals and not supporting Nevada’s efforts to expand testing in state prisons.

In a statement sent Wednesday evening, Dr. Caleb Cage, Nevada’s COVID-19 Response Director, did not address the backlog, but called Dick’s decision “drastic.”

“If Mr. Dick was truly committed to expanding testing in his community to effectively mitigate the spread of this disease, he could seek solutions, such as contracting with private testing labs as other communities throughout the state are doing to protect the health and safety of their residents,” Cage said.

Cage said the Nevada State Public Health Lab was testing nearly 2,000 samples sent daily.

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This story has been corrected to show Washoe County first began asymptomatic testing June 1, not May 26.