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Children's Mercy Hospital forced to limit COVID-19 testing, while infections reach record highs

A female nurse wearing light yellow protective gown and blue latex gloves reaches into a car to swab a driver.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Nichole Cain, an RN with University Health, swabs a client who drove through the hospital's COVID testing facility at 22nd and Charlotte Streets on Tuesday. UH is one local hospital that is not experiencing a shortage of testing supplies. Children's Mercy says a delivery of re-agents did not arrive this week forcing them to limit their testing capabilities.

Children's Mercy Hospital says the supplier of a re-agent needed for its PCR testing did not send its shipment this week. As a result, the hospital will suspend COVID testing at emergency departments and urgent care facilities.

Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City says it’s been forced to limit COVID-19 tests because a re-agent used in its testing platform was not delivered this week.

“It has caused a lot of havoc in our institution because we do about 5,000 tests a week,” said Dr. Jennifer Watts at Children’s Mercy. “And so we have had to drastically alter the tests that we are able to do.”

Starting Wednesday, Children’s Mercy says they will suspend COVID testing at emergency departments and urgent care facilities. Testing will be limited to clinical employees, pre-procedural patients and admitted patients.

Watts says the hospital was put on allocation by their test-kit supplier. That means they will receive less than their normal shipment of supplies — when they show up at all.

Watts said she didn’t know when the re-agent would be delivered or when they would be able to resume their regular testing routines.

“We are looking at alternative methods right now,” Watts said. “We know that this is a service that is necessary in the community. And trust me, we wanna get this back up and going as soon as possible.”

According to Watts, Children’s Mercy is now seeing the most cases of COVID since the start of the pandemic. The hospital has about 30 patients hospitalized with COVID as of Tuesday, and reported more than 1,400 cases diagnosed in the past week.

Children’s Mercy officials said the surge of cases caused by the highly contagious omicron variant, paired with an increased testing demand across the country after the winter holidays, has contributed to supply issues. And they’re not the only hospital dealing with shortages.

Liberty Hospital chief medical officer Dr. Raghu Adiga says they have also missed recent shipments of PCR tests. It’s been two weeks since the Liberty, Missouri, facility received their allocation.

Adiga says that demand for testing has gone up three or four times in the past few weeks.

“Even if we had gotten our allocations, that would’ve provided us only with about one third of our needs,” he said.

Adiga says they have been able to outsource some of their testing to MAWD Pathology Group in North Kansas City. Meanwhile, Liberty Hospital has prioritized in-house testing to current and incoming patients.

Other hospitals in the Kansas City area have not reported missed shipments, but say they’ve struggled to keep up with the increased demand for testing.

The Mid America Regional Council reports that the daily average number of new COVID cases in the Kansas City area has reached nearly 3,500, a 60% increase from the previous week.

University of Kansas Health Center spokesperson Jill Chadwick called their supply “tenuous.”

“Medical is impacted by global issues well beyond anyone’s control,” she said. “While there are pockets where numbers of infections are trailing downward in spots of the U.S. Overall, the world is still full of COVID and continues to gather and spread the infection.”

Testing sites around the metro were inundated in the past weeks when they offered free COVID tests. One of those sites, MyHomeLabs, performed nearly 2,000 tests in a single day and had to turn away people lined up in their cars.

Freeat-home COVID tests are now available from the U.S. government. Online orders for the tests opened on Tuesday, although the site says that orders will take 7 to 12 days to ship.

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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