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15-minute COVID-19 tests coming for jail inmates, exposed staff

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    Tulsa, OK (Tulsa World) — To date, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office has had five COVID-19-positive inmates, with all of them since having been discharged or kept in negative airflow cells until subsequently recovering.

Sheriff Vic Regalado said he attributes the low number to great work from Turnkey Health, the jail’s contracted medical provider, but a new machine announced Friday will make the testing process more efficient.

Regalado said Turnkey recommended the BD Veritor Plus system, a portable machine that can produce COVID-19 test results in 15 minutes.

“We believe this enhances our response to COVID-19 within the David L. Moss (Criminal Justice Center) so we can continue to keep those numbers low and continue to keep the citizens of Tulsa County we serve safe from infection,” Regalado said.

The system uses a nasal swab, and Regalado said the Sheriff’s Office purchased 2,000 test kits as a starting point. At about $35 per test, the machine was included at no extra cost as part of the $70,000 purchase, Regalado said.

The cheaper antigen tests are not supposed to be treated as presumptive, the Department of Health and Human Services has said after the federal government invested $24 million for the BD Veritor Plus system to meet rapid-testing needs nationwide.

The results of rapid antigen tests may result in up to 15% false negatives, and the government has reportedly said they should not be “the sole basis for treatment or patient management decisions, including infection control decisions.”

Federal agencies and antigen-test manufacturers recommend confirming negative results with higher-accuracy polymerase chain reaction testing, which is more sensitive.

Regalado said Friday that the rapid tests are 84% accurate at determining positive cases and that his staff would defer to medical professionals about the need for further testing, for example, of symptomatic individuals.

Previously, the turnaround for test results was about five days, with jail staff having processed 1,693 tests since the pandemic began, Regalado said.

He said the need for testing typically falls into one of several scenarios. Inmates transferring out to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections or other counties’ facilities will get tested alongside incoming inmates claiming to have or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

Employees who have been exposed during operations at the jail will also be tested, and Regalado said other tests will be used on an as-needed basis.

It’s unclear how the rate of testing will change with faster turnarounds, but Regalado said there will always be the option of buying additional test kits to keep a ready supply on hand.

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