In 2020, the Governor announced the first phase of a Unified Testing Strategy to significantly expand and better coordinate COVID-19 testing across the state. This was due to the critical need for testing and the lack of public health capacity (both at the CDC & at KDHE).
The Unified Testing Strategy asked commercial and university labs to help the State double the amount of testing in Kansas by the end of 2020. With federal funds dedicated to the effort at that time, the State met its testing goal, providing more than two million tests to Kansans by January 2021. The State of Kansas is grateful for the partnerships that we formed with the commercial and university labs.
However, once COVID-19 vaccines were approved for emergency use by the FDA, testing rates in Kansas – and across the country – began to decline. Testing rates flattened during the spring and early summer of 2021 across the US. KDHE’s budget for testing was calculated assuming these lower testing rates in the State after the winter surge.
With emergence of the Delta variant in 2021, testing rates rose significantly By July, Delta became the dominant variant accounting for more than 90% of new COVID cases in Kansas. Statewide tests increased from an average of under 2,000 tests per day in June to an average of nearly 20,000 per day in September.
Kansas state-funded testing also increased from an average of nearly 800 tests per day in June to an average of nearly 5,000 tests per day in September. The monthly cost of the state-funded testing program grew from approximately $4M in June to approximately $16M in September. This drained the state’s testing budget. Without changes to the testing program, KDHE would have depleted all available funds for testing well before the end of 2021.
Widespread COVID-19 vaccination will prevent serious illness and death, but the virus is expected to continue to circulate in the population, not unlike the flu. It will be a shared responsibility to protect ourselves and our communities against its spread, which means testing will remain a critical tool to identify the virus.
Testing will also become an increasingly important way in which those who choose to remain unvaccinated may still be able to work, attend events, and travel. More businesses and employers are requiring proof of vaccination or demonstration of a negative COVID-19 test.
Given this increased and ongoing need for testing, funding for testing is no longer sustainable by public health alone. This will mean individuals, employers, and health insurers are going to be increasingly asked to pay for COVID-19 testing, as they would with testing for any other communicable disease.