By WECT Staff | July 7, 2020 at 1:34 PM EDT – Updated July 8 at 4:05 AM
RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) – The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday issued a statewide order to make COVID-19 testing available in more communities, including historically marginalized populations, and increase reporting of test results, both positive and negative, to state health officials.
“Testing is an important component of the state’s strategy to slow the spread of the virus, and today’s order will make it easier for North Carolinians to get tested,” said NCDHHS State Health Director Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson.
The Statewide Standing Order allows testing sites to collect and submit samples to a laboratory for COVID-19 testing without requiring a specific doctor or provider referral and authorizes testing sites to receive results directly from laboratories.
State officials say this will facilitate community-based testing sites and reduce barriers to testing, especially for members of historically marginalized populations who may be less likely to have a medical home.
“Increasing access to testing is key to our ability to respond to and contain COVID-19 which is why we still urge members of the public to get tested if they believe that they have been exposed to COVID-19 whether or not they have symptoms,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the NCDHHS.
WECT reached out to New Hanover County for comment on this new order. Their Public Health Department sent us the following statement.
“The statewide standing order regarding testing should eliminate steps in the process and increase efficiency in community COVID-19 testing. With the standing order, physicians don’t need to specifically order a test for a person, rather a patient can be tested and receive results through a testing site alone. In New Hanover County, we have been operating like this since late April for our drive-through community testing initiative under local Public Health standing orders, but the rest of the provider world can’t operate the way Public Health can under local medical director standing orders. So, this order allows testing to happen from vendors without access to a licensed physician to individually order tests. The statewide standing order could increase access for individuals here and across the state who do not have an established healthcare provider or who are uninsured. The increased efficiency that potentially results from this order may lead to New Hanover County Public Health receiving results and information for New Hanover County residents who have COVID-19 in shorter turnaround time than we currently do because there is more streamlined access to testing, therefore benefiting contact tracing efforts.”
The standing order will remain in effect for the duration of the state of emergency.
Cohen said the department will be deploying up to 300 free, temporary testing sites to underserved communities during the month of July.
“This new initiative is designed to increase access to free COVID-19 testing in African American, LatinX/Hispanic, and American Indian communities in 100 zip codes that currently have limited testing access,” Cohen said during a Tuesday afternoon news briefing.
Residents of the selected areas could face heightened risk of COVID-19 infection for many reasons, including close proximity of housing, challenges to practice social distancing, occupational exposure and barriers in transportation, as well as historical obstacles to access health care, a concentration of unmet health needs and chronic disease burden. Many front-line and essential workers are from historically marginalized populations and face even higher risk of exposure to infection as they are over-represented in industries deemed as essential workers supporting the entire state.
The state is partnering with Vidant Health and Orig3n, Inc. to deploy the free testing sites to these communities that have been identified by NCDHHS, Cohen added. This will also increase the state’s lab testing capacity.
“Combined, today’s two actions make it easier for North Carolinians to get tested and for trusted organizations, such as churches and civic engagement non-profits, to provide testing. That’s important because we know community engagement is one of our most effective strategies to help historically marginalized populations trust and access needed testing and care,” Cohen said.
Cohen said test is important, but the best strategy is prevention.
“Everyone should be wearing a face covering when they’re in public,” said Cohen. “This is a statewide requirement because we now have growing evidence that cloth face covering when worn consistently can decrease the spread of COVID-19 especially among people who are not yet showing symptoms of the virus. Face coverings are key to moving forward with getting our kids back in school and further easing restrictions.”
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