The number of new coronavirus tests being processed each day in New Hampshire has remained relatively flat for about a month, according to an analysis by NHPR. This comes even as state health officials say they want to see more testing here.
The relatively slow rate of testing in New Hampshire raises questions about whether state leaders will be able to make informed decisions about relaxing restrictions on businesses and communities. Governors in other states have said more testing is a critical component of knowing whether they can safely reopen their economies.
Speaking on NHPR’s The Exchange Tuesday morning, Deputy State Epidemiologist Elizabeth Talbot said she’s been frustrated that New Hampshire hasn't been able to conduct more tests for COVID-19.
“We have not tested everyone we want to test, right, so there have been challenges at every step of the way,” said Talbot, who blamed an early batch of faulty kits from the CDC and a lack of testing supplies that continues to this day.
But those challenges are not unique to New Hampshire, and state officials haven’t provided an explanation for why the state has among the lowest rates of testing in New England – less than half the rate of Vermont and less than a third the rate of Rhode Island, when accounting for population differences.
Many COVID-19 tests in New Hampshire are ordered by individual doctors and conducted by private labs, meaning the overall rate of testing is not simply a matter of state policy.
But state government decisions do play a role. State public health officials communicate the guidelines under which providers should order tests. And the state can order significant amounts of testing on its own.
For example, a state partnership with Convenient MD is expected to test an additional 6,600 people at long term care facilities in the state by May 8. That’s a significant step, given that approximately 14,000 people have been tested in the state up to this point.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Governor Sununu said the state is racing to increase the rate of testing in New Hampshire.
“I can tell you we’re trying to ramp up as fast as we possibly can,” said Sununu. “We’re scouring for materials and supplies as fast as we can.”