SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota has halted testing for the coronavirus due to a national shortage of lab supplies needed to process the tests, and state officials aren't sure when testing will resume.

The state public health laboratory had to stop testing coronavirus samples on Tuesday, March 17, when expected supplies weren't received, the state epidemiologist, Dr. Josh Clayton, told health care providers in an Wednesday morning email.

"The (state lab) did not receive additional supplies as expected to run tests beyond March 16, and there is no timeframe of when these supplies will be available from the CDC and our commercial suppliers," he said, referring to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The halt could mean public health officials will lack a clear picture in the days ahead of the spread of the global pandemic into the state, just as state and local officials are facing hard questions about whether to keep K-12 schools closed, further restrict gatherings of people and whether or not to push for restaurants and bars to close. The state has confirmed 11 cases within state borders, all travel-related.

The state lab had 350 coronavirus tests listed as pending as of Wednesday at 5 p.m., according to the state Department of Health coronavirus information website.

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"We're not running any of those tests today," Gov. Kristi Noem told media in Rapid City. "We have a shortage on the reagents and the enzymes that are utilized to process the tests at the state public health lab."

Health systems in the state, including Sioux Falls-based Sanford Health, have set up the capacity to submit tests to private labs, which could help fill the gap if the state lab's supply issues continue. The turnaround time for tests sent to Sanford's testing vendor, Quest, is 72 hours, Sanford told Sioux Falls employees in a Monday informational email.

Leaders of both Sanford and Avera Health, which is also based in Sioux Falls, said Tuesday they're working to set up local test processing to speed the delivery of test results and bolster state's efforts.

Governor hopes for quick re-supply

Shipments bound for the state were canceled, Noem said. But she said the state was working with the White House, CDC and a range of providers to get the supplies soon, "hopefully within hours."

Noem had spoken to other state governors, asking to use their lab supplies, but they said they were facing similar shortages, she said.

However, in North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum told media late Wednesday afternoon the state has sufficient test processing supplies but is short on specimen collection swabs. His team is in touch with officials in South Dakota, with no reported shortage of swabs, to discuss a possible supply swap, he said.

Clayton asked for local health care providers collecting samples from potential coronavirus cases to continue to send in the samples. The state lab would prioritize testing medium- and high-priority patients as supplies came in to test those suspected of having COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

State officials confirmed the 11th case of COVID-19 in the state earlier this week. There's no indication yet the virus is spreading unknown among the state's population, Noem and other state officials have said.

Noem had previously told reporters on Monday the state had plenty of testing kits but had hit a snag with lab supplies, although that was expected to be short-lived. On Tuesday, she said public K-12 schools should remain closed another week due to coronavirus test issues.

As of Wednesday at 5 p.m., the state had fully processed a total of 562 tests.

Also:

  • The Catholic Dioceses of Sioux Falls and Rapid City canceled masses until further notice, said the leaders of both dioceses in a joint statement issued Tuesday.
  • The South Dakota Medical Association is requesting licensed physicians, nurses and emergency medical technicians volunteer during the coronavirus pandemic by signing up on the Statewide Emergency Registry of Volunteers.
  • Gov. Noem said there has been a "significant" number of people getting laid off from their jobs in the state, but didn't disclose specific numbers. She said the state is moving quickly to implement new federal provisions to aid the unemployed, as well as small businesses stricken by the coronavirus: "It is going to have a huge impact on our economy in South Dakota," she said.
  • The Sioux Falls City Council on Tuesday limited gatherings in city facilities to 10 or fewer people, in line with federal guidelines, and encouraged the public to do the same with social gatherings.
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