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Michigan asks medical providers to cut use of state lab for testing

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The state of Michigan is directing health care facilities to avoid sending testing to state laboratories now that more private labs are performing the task. 

The directive comes even as state officials have consistently lamented the lack of testing capacity within Michigan. 

The directive from Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun also clarified rules about who should be prioritized for testing, pushing health care workers and first responders, hospitalized patients, symptomatic long-term facility residents, symptomatic individuals over the age of 65 and symptomatic critical infrastructure workers to the front of the line. 

The state initially "scaled up" its labs to detect cases and help slow COVID-19 spread while private labs developed "capabilities to conduct wide-ranging diagnostic testing," Khaldun said. 

A Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employee processes tests at the state lab in Lansing.

But in the weeks since testing began in late February, 15 hospital systems have started testing and several commercial labs have come online so that testing can be conducted without the state's involvement, she said.

"Health care providers and facilities with established relationships to laboratories should leverage those relationships, where feasible, prior to leveraging (Bureau of Laboratories) testing capabilities," Khaldun said. "This will allow for BOL to place focus on its role in supporting critical public health investigations and activities."

The state lab will continue to provide testing for any health care providers of facilities without testing capacity, but it also will expand its current testing to include homeless populations, uninsured or underinsured patients, high-risk individuals and long-term care sites that lack testing capacity, said Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

"We also are exploring community-based surveillance to determine how far spread has gone and conducting full sequencing of samples to assess the clinical correlations to virus strains," Sutfin said. 

The directive comes amid continued concerns about the lack of testing in Michigan and nationwide and the obstacles that presents to developing reliable modeling and public health planning. 

"We’ve never had enough tests to have the kind of robust testing so that we’ve got data that we can feel informs a model that is reliable," the governor said. "... That is not unique to Michigan. That is kind of a countrywide issue that we’ve all got."

As of Tuesday, state labs have performed 16% of the testing in Michigan, processing 6,990 of the 43,503 specimens tested.

Hospitals have conducted about 70% of the testing and private labs have conducted 14% of the testing. 

As of Tuesday, the state reported a total of 18,970 confirmed coronavirus cases and 845 COVID-19-related deaths.