UNMC Doc Says Nebraska Needs 3x More Tests Daily, Advises Watching Positivity Rate

April 22, 2020, 2:39 p.m. ·

National Guardsmen conduct COVID-19 testing in McCook in early April. (Courtesy: Nebraska National Guard)

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A University of Nebraska Medical Center doctor who helped establish the state’s COVID-19 response plan says Nebraska needs to be doing at least three times the number of tests its doing now.

Nebraska has tested between 500 and a thousand people each day for the past week.

Dr. James Lawler is Executive Co-Director for the Global Center for Health Security. He says we need to be doing around 3,000 tests a day to fully understand the spread of the virus.

But it’s not just about the number of tests – Dr. Lawler says we want to hit a low percentage of how many of the tests end up positive for COVID-19.

"Eventually, to be able to have true control of the outbreak in your community, you want to be down well below 1%," Dr. Lawler said.

Nebraska is far above that mark right now. The average positive rate for the past seven days is 17%. But Dr. Lawler says that reflects how different parts of the state are experiencing the virus.

"Places like Lincoln and Omaha, where case counts have been dropping, I think have a much lower percent positive rate," he said. "But we're seeing now flare ups occurring in some of these communities around meatpacking facilities and the percent positive in those communities are well above 20%."

The state’s new “Test Nebraska” initiative promises to increase testing capacity by 3,000 a day – but it could be five weeks before we see that much testing here.

The program will start slow with about 500 tests on day one, which is about ten days away.