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Costly change coming to COVID-19 testing in Kansas

Coronavirus in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Sedgwick County commissioners are now planning on sending a letter to the governor, lawmakers, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment after the KDHE announced it will no longer fully fund mass testing and lab sites.

The Sedgwick County manager said he was not informed of this change until the weekend.

The KDHE said it ran out of money to fund some of the state testing. So what happens next?

Matt Lara, KDHE communications director, said free COVID-19 testing sites will not shut down, but beginning in December, all samples will be sent to a lab in Topeka to be processed.

“We have a courier service who goes to each county, I believe, almost daily to pick up tests and bring them back,” he said.

Right now, nearly 40 Kansas counties rely on the Wichita State University Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory (MDL) to process COVID-19 tests.

Sedgwick County Manager Tom Stolz is worried this change will cause unnecessary delays. 

“The concern is we move from that model to now one where begin sending out of county,” he said. “We’ll be waiting one, two, three, four days to get results back, and it just sets us back to where we were a year ago.”

We asked KDHE how long it could take to get results with this new procedure. The response is that it’s not yet clear. 

“I don’t know the answer to that, but I can definitely find out,” Lara said.

Sedgwick County Commissioner David Dennis is not taking this news lightly.

“It’s just not an acceptable situation for Sedgwick County or the 40 other counties that are provided for by the MDL,” he said.

Lara said funding for testing in schools will not be affected, but some companies using the service will have to find a way to pay.

“This is something that employers need to start looking at as part of their normal routine, funding for this sort of testing as they would for any other kind of testing they would require of an employee,” he said.

Dennis and Stolz said the cost to keep things how they are is worth it.

“Testing keeps kids in school. It keeps people at work. It keeps our economy moving,” Dennis said.

“Get us past winter, get us past flu season, RSV season, all the other things that we’re having to deal with as a community,” Stolz said.

WSU says it processes about 6,000 tests each week. Dennis said, according to WSU, to keep the facility up and running until the end of the school year would cost about $13 million.

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