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Plan for Pennsylvania: Testing Strategy

Increased testing capacity is a critical aspect to successfully reopen Pennsylvania; especially as certain regions move from aggressive mitigation to containment strategies. There are varied approaches to COVID-19 diagnostic testing that include differences among test type, criteria for testing and measures for success. Diagnostic testing determines if an individual has an active infection with COVID-19, while serologic (antibody) testing determines if an individual was previously infected at some point. The commonwealth's vision is to ensure that anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 is able to receive a diagnostic test.

What is the Testing Strategy?

The Wolf Administration has developed an enhanced testing strategy with a focus on three pillars: ensuring testing is accessible for all Pennsylvanians with symptoms of COVID-19; available by increasing supply and building community capacity and adaptable to the evolving landscape of the virus and data.

Testing Accessible for All Pennsylvanians

It is a top priority to ensure that all people in Pennsylvania who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 have access to diagnostic testing. To ensure a healthy Pennsylvania for all, especially during these unprecedented times, the Wolf Administration will only partner with organizations and entities throughout our response to COVID-19 that have an established commitment to non-discriminatory practices. In addition to continuing robust testing at the Department of Health's State Laboratory, the commonwealth plans to make testing widely available by partnering closely with existing community resources like retail pharmacies and federally qualified health centers.

The number of cases in communities will continue to be closely monitored to ensure that testing sites are situated appropriately in areas with the greatest need. For example, if there is a substantial outbreak in a long-term care facility, testing resources will be targeted to that facility as needed. The department will also continue to utilize community-based testing sites, similar to the site in Luzerne county, to provide consolidated larger scale testing. The department will listen to community partners, county/municipal health departments and local health care leaders to inform a localized strategy.

In Pennsylvania, all major health insurance providers, including Medical Assistance contractors, cover medically appropriate laboratory testing for COVID-19. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health continue to perform testing free of charge.

Increasing Testing Availability

An increase in laboratory equipment, test kits and specimen collection sites is critical to enhancing testing capacity across the state. The Department of Health is closely collaborating with the Department of Community and Economic Development, other state agencies and federal partners to seek additional testing resources. A group of interdisciplinary professionals from various state agencies have been brought together to specifically focus on ensuring an accessible, available, and adaptable testing throughout Pennsylvania.

Using the Department of Health's incident command structure, the Department of Health will have the responsibility of determining who should be tested and what tests are needed; the Department of Community and Economic Development will proactively seek out FDA-approved testing resources while working closely with Pennsylvania-based private sector partners to develop new testing technology; and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency will assist with getting tests into the hands of communities. This team will also identify necessary funding to meet the needs of this accessible, available and adaptable testing strategy. As more testing sites become available, they will be listed on the Department of Health's Coronavirus Symptoms & Testing webpage.

Ensuring the Plan is Adaptable

The department recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to evolve rapidly as the tools, research and data are improved to protect public health. The Wolf Administration is deeply committed to a data-driven, community-based approach to addressing COVID-19. This means we must remain flexible in our strategy. As more information becomes available, we will continue to refine our approach based on scientific evidence and input from communities in Pennsylvania. The interagency group mentioned above will coordinate and quickly adapt to changes in the testing environment. This group will focus on sourcing and procurement of supplies; deploying testing supplies and other resources; and providing guidance and input regarding the efficacy of testing methods. Further, the commonwealth will continue to review where the greatest need for testing is and leverage mobile testing capabilities when possible to ensure flexibility in the testing response.

What Progress has Been Made Related to Diagnostic Testing?

Testing capacity throughout the commonwealth continues to improve. The Department of Health’s State Laboratory testing capacity has increased dramatically from being able to conduct up to 4 diagnostic tests per day in February to approximately 750 tests per day in April. As of April 2020, the state laboratory has tested over 9,150 specimens in total for COVID-19. Testing capacity has also greatly expanded among commercial laboratories, in addition to the state laboratory. The following graph outlines the number of COVID-19 diagnostic tests conducted throughout Pennsylvania by both commercial and state laboratories.

COVID-19 diagnostic tests

Despite this progress, there is still more work to be done. Through this enhanced strategy, we have set a goal for 90 percent of people in Pennsylvania to live within 45 miles from a testing site, and for 2% of the population in every region throughout the commonwealth to be tested per month. The below chart outlines how many individuals would need to be tested in each county per month to meet this goal.

Region 2018 Population Target Number of Individuals to Test per Month
(2% of Pop.)
NW889,47117,789
SW2,651,43253,029
NC699,54613,991
SC1,723,17734,464
NE1,609,92432,198
SE5,233,510104,670
Total 12,807,060 256,141


Does This Plan Include Serologic (Antibody) Testing?

The Wolf Administration is continuing to review available research on tests that identify previous exposure to COVID-19. At this time, serology testing is not being implemented on a widescale throughout the commonwealth. However, this testing strategy will be adapted as more information and resources become available.

Resources for More Information

Coronavirus Symptoms & Testing: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Symptoms-Testing.aspx

How To Get Tested for COVID-19: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/Documents/Diseases%20and%20Conditions/COVID19%20Testing%20Factsheet.pdf

Testing for COVID-19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html

Testing in the U.S.: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html

COVID-19 Serology Surveillance Strategy: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/serology-surveillance/index.html

Insurance Coverage and Coronavirus (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/Pages/Coronavirus-Insurance.aspx