The testing procedures for coronavirus at Herington Municipal Hospital have been given an unofficial cease and desist order.
The Dickinson County Health Department and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment have both asked the hospital in southeast Dickinson County to discontinue the blood antibody tests and use the preferred PCR (polymerise chain reaction) test.
“We tried to talk to the CEO and the CFO in a conference call with KDHE and they just aren’t listening,” said Dr. Brian Holmes, Dickinson County health officer. “They don’t seem to get it that what they are doing is not in the interest of their citizens down there. I don’t understand why they don’t come to the same conclusions as the other experts and they are continuing to do the tests.”
Herington Chief Executive Officer Isabel Schmedemann was given the opportunity to respond but as of Sunday afternoon did not answer questions from the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle.
According to Holmes, the results of the Herington antibody tests are causing confusion throughout the county as well as neighboring counties.
“It is affecting spouses of these people that they are saying are positive, who then take that information to their employer who then quarantines other people, who then shuts down their business. It has this rippling effect,” he said.
“We have people calling our health department concerned because they are told they have antibodies that are positive and that they have COVID-19 and yet they are still required to go to work at the hospital,” he added. “Those people are worried. Are they potentially infectious to other people?”
Holmes said the confirmatory PCR testing has not be done to answer that question.
“The problem with Herington is, they were advertising that this was a test that was 100 percent specific for SARS CoV-2 which it isn’t, and that it is specific for COVID-19 infection, which it isn’t. They are creating a lot of misinformation in the county and it is having repercussions outside our county,” Holmes said.
Technically COVID-19 is the coronavirus disease. SARS-CoV-2 is the severe acute respiratory virus.
According to the World Health Organization, viruses and the diseases they cause often have different names. For example HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. People often know the name of a disease, but not the name of the virus that causes it.
Holmes said the county health department tried to get the Herington hospital to test a patient but the hospital refused to do the PCR testing.
“They (patient) came up to our facility to have it done,” he said.
Those test results are pending.
Herington is using an IgG/IgM antibodies test.
“My understanding is they were doing the test that required them to be a high complexity test center which they aren’t. When that was discovered, they were told to stop which they did, but they found another entity to go ahead and run the serum they are drawing still at their facility and are sending it out to be run,” Holmes said.
According to an article by the Kansas News Service which broke the story last Friday afternoon, Herington Municipal Hospital got fed up with long waits for lab results that would tell its patients with respiratory symptoms whether they have the novel coronavirus.
So when a sales representative called the 25-bed hospital in rural central Kansas, offering tests that produce results in less than half an hour, Herington ordered 500.
“We answered the phone on the right day,” Schmedemann said in an interview last week. “I wish we had ordered more.”
State health secretary Lee Norman said he would alert other hospitals and labs around the state to concerns about the tests. He warned the public in a press conference viewed by tens of thousands of people on Facebook that many antibody tests — meant to show a patient’s exposure to a virus — don’t necessarily tell people what they want to know.
People who test positive with the Herington tests aren’t being counted toward the state’s COVID-19 tally. There is only one confirmed case in Dickinson County as of Sunday.
“You could get a positive if you had nothing other than a common cold,” county public health director John Hultgren said.
“I’m livid about this,” Schmedemann said of the county health department’s actions to the Kansas News Network last week. “We’re serious about providing quality health care.”
Celia Llopis-Jepsen with the Kansas News Service contributed to this story. Contact Tim Horan at email@example.com.