COLUMBIA — As new cases of COVID-19 in South Carolina top 1,000 daily, testing sites are rapidly expanding into every corner of the state.
In all, 170 fixed testing sites are operating in places such as pharmacies, hospitals and health care centers, and 42 mobile facilities are scheduled through Aug. 4 — arranged as partnerships between the state, local health care providers and community groups. All of the mobile sites, and some of the permanent ones, offer tests that are free to the test-taker, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
With the state approaching a half-million completed tests and 19 percent of them on average coming back positive over the previous 14 days, getting more testing capability online sits at the top of DHEC’s priority list, officials said.
Since May, 443 free testing events have been held statewide.
The framework for DHEC’s testing strategy is laid out in an action plan developed in conjunction with the Medical University of South Carolina and the state hospital association, which echoed the new testing strategy DHEC announced May 6.
It outlines three target demographics when it comes to testing availability: congregate living facilities such as nursing homes and jails, minority and rural communities that lack access to medical care, and urban areas where transmission threats are elevated because of population density and access to social venues.
The plan also set a goal of testing at least 110,000 people every month — a goal the state has so far surpassed. Since the May 6 announcement, more than 360,000 tests have been conducted to determine whether someone is currently infected with the virus that has no vaccine.
That brings the total tests to nearly 440,000 since the first South Carolinians were diagnosed in early March. As of Monday, 46,247 residents statewide have tested positive for the coronavirus that has killed more than 800 of them.
How to find a test site
DHEC’s website is updated daily as testing events and locations are added. That includes systems that offer telehealth options, which is important as many sites work on an appointment-only basis. It also provides a breakdown of locations that charge a testing fee.
Starting Tuesday, mobile clinics will be open in Horry, Lexington, Oconee and Sumter counties. A full schedule including hours of operation and testing times can be found at DHEC’s website. All are free.
How long will you have to wait for a test?
That varies. While there isn’t an overall wait time calculation, certain locations may be busier than others depending on the time of day and staffing levels.
DHEC urges people to take along a driver’s license or identification card. Since not all locations are coordinated by the state, officials encourage people to call ahead. Some events may also require referrals or insurance.
When will results come back?
In general, turnaround times have been between 24 and 48 hours from when a specimen arrives at DHEC’s public health laboratory to when it’s reported back to a provider. But as the testing mounts, a delay of up to two additional days could be possible.
But tests processed by private labs could have even longer backlogs, and they handle about three-fourths of all diagnostic COVID-19 testing, DHEC officials said.
“We don’t have the specifics for private labs as to whether this is due to an increase in testing, supply shortage or a combination of both,” DHEC spokeswoman Laura Renwick said.
Are testing thresholds being met?
By the end of 2020, DHEC expects to report at least 695,000 tests, or roughly 13 percent of the state’s population. Officials anticipate at least 140,000 people will be tested monthly this summer. Between September and December, DHEC projects 165,000 tests a month.