Erie County has run out of materials to conduct any more COVID-19 tests, which are critical to mapping the spread of the disease.
County officials had warned Tuesday that it was running low on materials, and on Wednesday Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said the county lab now had only enough swabs and chemicals to test the specimens that have already been collected.
The Erie County Public Health Lab is the only area health lab for Western New York that has been able to test for COVID-19. It was also conducting tests for the Rochester region until recently.
Erie County started with enough test kits to conduct 450 tests.
"We do have enough to run the tests for all the specimens tested so far," Burstein said.
Burstein estimated that the county would be able to complete testing on 550 to 600 specimens. Then it will be out.
The county was able to get an additional 200 swab kits to enable the testing of specimens that had been authorized to be taken through Thursday, Poloncarz said.
People who have been told by the health department that they have an appointment for a specimen collection, Burstein said, "Be assured, you will be tested."
But anyone who has not yet been given a set time to show up for testing will not be tested until more testing material is provided.
Erie County is hardly the only place facing a shortage as the pandemic sweeps across the country.
"It's a national shortage," Burstein said. "We are not the only lab in New York State that is experiencing these testing limitations."
County officials said they do not know when they'll get more.
There was an expectation that Kaleida Health, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Erie County Medical Center labs would be in a position to help lighten the testing load.
But Poloncarz killed that notion Wednesday night.
“When it comes to our partner agencies, they’re not able to do any testing because, No. 1, they may not have officially been approved by New York State yet,” he said. “And even if they’ve been approved, they don’t have the materials to do it.”
The shortage comes as the county conducted its first drive-thru testing.
A drive-thru testing site was quietly set up outside Twin District Firehall in Lancaster.
"Yes, there was a specimen collection clinic at that site," Poloncarz said. "It is not open to the general public. You had to have an assigned a time. But that is being shut down because we don't have the ability to test any more."
Poloncarz said the facility was guarded by Erie County sheriff's deputies and members of Homeland Security Investigations.
Several people came to the site and falsely claimed they were on the list, Poloncarz said.
There were no cars lined up outside the firehall Wednesday evening, but a white emergency vehicle was visible in the distance.
A motorist pulling into the firehall driveway could see an electric sign advising motorists to stay inside their vehicles.
“Are you here for the testing?” a man in a blue uniform asked.
He declined to say what the testing was for when asked and confirmed that the query be should be directed to the Erie County Health Department.
“We’re not allowed to say anything,” he said.
Regardless of testing, Poloncarz said it's abundantly clear that the coronavirus is already spreading in Erie County.
He announced seven new cases Wednesday bringing the total number of confirmed positive cases in Erie County to 27.
"There is community spread," he said. "We want people to understand that it is all over Erie County. Seven in Amherst. One in the Town of Aurora. Four in Buffalo. Two in Clarence. One in Elma. One in Grand Island. Two in Hamburg. One in Holland. One new case in North Collins and one in Orchard Park. It is already in our community."
He said he expected more positive cases to be confirmed overnight.
"We are just entering the beginning of the storm," Poloncarz said.
News Staff Reporter Harold McNeil contributed to this report.