Mecklenburg County Public Health director Gibbie Harris said the county likely needs to double its number of daily coronavirus tests as North Carolina moves into its three-phase reopening plan.
Harris is expected to reveal the county’s plan to increase testing Thursday or Friday. She indicated at a county commissioners meeting Tuesday night that the plan will draw on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among other things.
At a roundtable of county business leaders Monday, Harris said the county and area hospital systems were considering “the possibility of a two-to-three tier approach to testing.”
The plan could allow more residents to be tested. Because of limited testing supplies and personal protective equipment for health care workers, the county has so far focused on testing people who have symptoms or are at high-risk.
At the same meeting, Harris expressed frustration with state leaders, saying she had been pushing for guidance on the county plan and received little help. She said North Carolina is drafting a plan to increase testing statewide but is reviewing it with several different groups which could delay the process of sharing it with individual counties.
“There continues to be slow movement on this, unfortunately,” Harris said. “I don’t feel like we can wait another week or two to get that guidance."
As of Wednesday afternoon, Mecklenburg had tested at least 32,000 people -- or about 3% of its population -- according to a county spokeswoman. Novant Health and Atrium Health have at least three total mobile coronavirus testing sites.
Testing is important because it helps identify people who have the coronavirus and allows officials to effectively quarantine those who may have been exposed to prevent it from spreading.
North Carolina has one of the worst coronavirus testing rates in the U.S., according to a WFAE analysis of data from the COVID-19 Tracking Project.
But state officials said testing is improving. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Amy Ellis said in an email Tuesday the state is working with Walmart and Walgreens to set up drive-through testing locations. Ellis said two sites have opened with as many as six more expected to be operational by next week.
The state will also receive 300,000 CDC test kits throughout the month of May. It’s not clear how many of those will be available in Mecklenburg County.
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