Nebraska sets up new lab, expects to add virus testing sites

CHI Health St. Elizabeth in Lincoln will serve as the state’s lab under the TestNebraska program, which state officials launched through a contract with a Utah startup.
Ap Photo Nati Harnik

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska has opened a new lab to analyze the results of about 3,000 coronavirus tests per day and will launch more testing sites beyond those operating in Omaha and hard-hit Grand Island, officials said Tuesday.

CHI Health St. Elizabeth in Lincoln will serve as the state’s lab under the TestNebraska program, which state officials launched through a contract with a Utah startup.

“This is going to allow us to greatly expand our testing,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said at his weekday coronavirus news conference.

Nebraska officials have sought to increase the state’s testing capacity to get a better sense of where the coronavirus is and how quickly it’s spreading.

Under the $27 million, no-bid contract with Nomi Health and other firms, Nebraska received 540,000 tests, plus equipment needed to analyze them and website support to help people enroll. Ricketts said about 122,000 Nebraska residents have signed up so far.

Iowa, which has a similar contract with Nomi, faced criticism last week because of a data-entry backlog at its State Hygienic Laboratory that resulted in a delay to virus test results. Ricketts said he doesn’t anticipate any such delays in Nebraska, and he has defended the tests’ accuracy after questions were raised about those conducted in Utah.

The new lab will operate around-the-clock, seven days a week, with a staff of 15 to 25 medical technologists and lab assistants, said Derek Vance, the hospital’s president.

Nebraska has already been testing for the virus at locations not affiliated with the TestNebraska program, including the state public health lab, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and some private hospitals, but officials acknowledge the need for more tests.

Nebraska has confirmed 6,083 coronavirus cases and 78 deaths as of Tuesday, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. More than 28,500 people have been tested.

There has been a surge in new cases in Nebraska over the last two weeks even as Ricketts, a Republican, relaxed social-distancing restrictions in some areas where not many people have been infected. Most of the hardest-hit counties have major meatpacking plants where employees work and often live together in tight spaces.

Categories: Coronavirus, Nebraska News, News