Health officials in Arizona are warning that the state may soon be unable to continue testing people for COVID-19 because of a lack of testing kits, and a Democratic congressman is demanding an explanation from the Trump administration.
In a letter to Vice President Pence sent Thursday, Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) said he was frustrated with how the administration has continued to "grossly mismanage" the coronavirus pandemic, and said the administration had "crippled" doctors and nurses with a lack of needed supplies.
Like much of the country, initial diagnostic tests provided to the state by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were defective and unusable, and the state has been trying to catch up ever since.
Stanton first wrote to Pence in February to complain about the defective tests, and to ask for an explanation of how the administration planned to rectify the issue. On Thursday, he said he has still not heard back.
"I ask you again — how do you plan to fix this unacceptable lack of tests and give our health professionals the resources they need to keep the American people safe?" Stanton wrote.
Earlier this week, Arizona's top health official issued new guidelines to primary care providers, telling them not to test patients for COVID-19, saying the state's "current reality" is that it doesn't have enough supplies to meet testing demand.
"Keep working with your commercial vendors for testing, but do not depend on having test results for your management," Health Department Director Cara Christ wrote. "There is no specific treatment or management strategy, and results should not change clinical management."
She encouraged doctors to send patients with more severe symptoms to "higher levels of care" but noted: "There may not be testing indicated or available at the higher level of facility, either."
Christ said the guidelines are meant to keep primary care clinics open, so as not to overwhelm emergency rooms and hospitals.
Christ also advised providers to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE), and use alternatives whenever possible.
"Ideal PPE for COVID-19 include gloves, gowns, medical/surgical masks, and face shields — but there are shortages, and we need to move towards reuse, extended use and alternative sources of PPE," Christ wrote.
The guidelines also advised that if primary care doctors needed to perform a COVID-19 test, they should do it outside due to the shortage of PPE. Going outdoors could help limit the exposure of staff and other patients.