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No coronavirus found in Alabama yet, but testing remains sparse

Private testing becomes available; some insurance to cover full cost

ADPH news conference

Alabama's state health officer, Scott Harris, speaks in Montgomery at a news conference Tuesday on the new coronavirus COVID-19.

Alabama on Tuesday remained among the shrinking number of states with no reported cases of the new coronavirus, though testing for COVID-19 across the state remains sparse. 

Fewer than 20 residents of the state had been tested for the virus by state or federal agencies as of Monday morning, assistant state health officer Dr. Karen Landers said Monday. State health officials on Tuesday had no updated estimate of the number of tests run in the state, though Landers said no tests had come back positive. 

“We’re going to have a positive at some point,” Landers said. 

Coronavirus continued to spread in some parts of the country Tuesday, with 700 cases nationwide according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alabama is among 14 states that have yet to report a case. 

Alabama’s state health officer, Scott Harris, said Tuesday that the state now has the capacity to perform about 150 tests for the virus per day. The state doesn’t charge for the tests run at its Montgomery lab, health officials have said, but those tests are run only on people who meet the state’s criteria for testing. 

Harris said that limits testing to people who have symptoms of the illness and have traveled overseas or had contact with a known COVID-19  — or to people who are already hospitalized and for whom alternative diagnoses have been eliminated. 

Harris said his office would give an update Friday on the total number of tests conducted this week. Lack of widespread testing has been a point of contention for many critics of the nationwide response to the virus. The CDC in recent days briefly stopped reporting on the number of patients who’ve been tested. Numbers available on the CDC website Tuesday show 4,856 tests run nationwide as of Monday. 

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Landers said private companies now offer COVID-19 testing for patients who don’t meet the state criteria but who are recommended for a test by their doctor. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama, the biggest private health care insurer in the state, indicated Tuesday that those tests would be covered for at least some customers.

“We will cover testing for COVID-19 at no cost to our fully-insured members,” Blue Cross spokeswoman Koko Mackin said in an email to The Anniston Star.

Labcorp, a company that does drug testing and other lab work at locations across the country announced this week that it would offer COVID-19 testing to its customers. 

A staff member at the Anniston branch of Labcorp said Tuesday that the test was not yet available locally. 

Harris said the health department moved this week to make COVID-19 a “reportable” illness, meaning health care providers have to notify the health department of new cases. 

An Alabama Department of Public Health news conference on the COVID-19 coronavirus, held March 10, 2020.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.