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Medical workers speak with patients in their cars at a drive-up testing facility for COVID-19 recently at Primary Health Medical Group in Nampa.

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Gov. Brad Little announced today that he's named a new public-private task force to create a COVID-19 testing strategy for the state moving forward. “The staged reopening of our economy can only occur with a combination of efforts, and expanded and targeted testing is a big part of our strategy,” Little said in a news release. “We are on the verge of seeing testing capacity significantly open up in Idaho and elsewhere. Our new Testing Task Force will set criteria for when and how frequently someone should be tested and how to move toward a common reporting platform across the state. We have a strong team of very capable local clinical and laboratory and research experts from across the state helping us navigate this crisis, and I appreciate their help.”

Clinical, laboratory and research experts are among those serving on the new panel, which is co-chaired by Dr. Jim Souza, the chief medical officer for St. Luke’s Health System, and Dr. Christopher Ball, director of the Idaho Bureau of Laboratories.

Souza said, “We know that testing capabilities have been limited in too many areas and we are glad for the increasing capacity that is coming online in multiple areas. We know we need to reopen our economy based upon sound principles that allow progress while maintaining safety. Testing will be a key tool to inform these decisions. The task force will provide recommendations that serve to inform the most effective reopening actions.”

The group's immediate focus is on improvements in:

• Safe and efficient screening and testing sites for symptomatic individuals, including those with mild symptoms;

• Screening and testing locations in all regions of the state, including places that serve older individuals, rural and lower income populations, and racial and ethnic minorities; and

• Robust COVID-19 testing programs for at-risk healthcare workers.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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