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Kansas City, Missouri, Can Now Test A Limited Number Of People For The New Coronavirus

Alex Smith
Kansas City, Missouri, officials convened earlier this week to discuss the region's preparations for the coronavirus.

This story was updated March 6, 2020 at 12:15 p.m. 

Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department, says his office currently has just five kits to test for possible cases of the new coronavirus.

That’s despite an announcement Tuesday evening from Vice President Mike Pence, who said “any American can be tested” for the virus.

Pence admitted to reporters Thursday that demand for the kits exceeds supply. 

“That created a real challenge when the vice president told everybody they could get tested,” Archer told the city council Thursday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each kit can test approximately 700 to 800 specimens. Due to the limited testing capability, the threshold for choosing whom to test will be extremely high.

“Probably 95% of folks that we might think should be tested won’t be allowed to be tested,” Archer said.

Once those kits run out, Archer said he can request more. In the meantime, local providers can only collect samples to be tested by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the state testing lab in Jefferson City, but Archer says that method is more complicated and prone to error.

Randall Williams, director of the state Department of Health and Senior Services, told St. Louis Public Radio this week that the state-run testing lab in Jefferson City is also limiting who can have a test.

“There’s a finite number of tests we can do,” Williams said. “The question is, 'Can anybody get a test?' The answer is, 'No, you stillhave to meet criteria,'” he said.

Archer said most people with COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, can recover with rest at home.

“What we don’t want to do, though, is have people thinking they can get tested, going to the emergency rooms just because of that, and then getting exposed to that or other things when they actually should be staying at home,” Archer said.

Archer said he’s also put in a request to the state to be the first city to start doing surveillance in hospitals on anyone with respiratory issues to detect whether the virus has arrived.

Archer added that his department has been working with the city’s lobbyist to push for passage of an emergency spending bill to combat the virus.

Currently, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kansas City, and no federal, state or local officials have issued any restrictions on attending public events. 

Editor’s note: Some details in this story, including the headline, have been changed as new information has been confirmed about testing kits for the new coronavirus. The Kansas City Health Department initially told KCUR that each kit tests just one person. This runs contrary to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says each kit can test hundreds of individual samples.

Lisa Rodriguez is the afternoon newscaster and the city hall reporter for KCUR 89.3 Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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