With Demand Rising, New Orleans Forced To Cut Back On COVID-19 Testing

Jul 6, 2020

Today’s mobile testing site opened at 8 a.m. at Dillard University, and it was booked up for tests five minutes later.

It’s just one extreme example of a new reality in the city: Fewer people in New Orleans will be able to get tested for the coronavirus at the city’s mobile testing sites.

In part, that’s thanks to strong public demand for testing over the past two weeks, as the city reopened. But it’s also due to a shortage in testing supplies.

Starting this week the city is capping testing at its mobile sites to 150 per site, per day. That’s down from the 250 tests that it had been performing.

Dr. Jennifer Avengo, the director of the city’s health department, said the shortage isn’t in nasal swabs or test tubes, but in materials needed for the machines that run the tests.

“The manufacturer of at least one of the big machines that initially said they could meet any capacity that we have, now is saying that they don't have enough specific materials — trays to run the test and some chemicals that are needed — to be able to keep up with our demand,” Avegno said.

Those materials are still mostly originating in China, Avegno said, where manufacturing delays continue. But she also said the shortage could be thanks to rising testing needs in U.S. states that hadn’t been widely testing before, and are now seeing outbreaks.

The city is using machines made by Roche, but Avegno said she’d been told of similar supply chain issues for the major manufacturers of these testing machines are being reported by Oschner and LCMC hospitals, and state labs.

The shortage comes amid rising coronavirus cases in 40 states. Cases have been rising dramatically in some parts of Louisiana and ticking up in New Orleans.