After well publicized initial delays in the production of tests for the noval coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 , Federal, State, commercial and research laboratories are now able to test in ever increasing numbers.
So, with all these new tests, why is it still so hard to get tested for COVID-19?
Many of us would like to be tested, for our own peace of mind, as well as to make choices about protecting others. However, even though testing is now more available, it will need to be targeted for the foreseeable future. Thus, persons with no symptoms, even if exposed, will not be prioritized for testing at the current time.
First, testing will be limited by the number of heath care workers who can perform it safely.. As the novel coronavirus is spread mostly through liquid droplets of created when people cough or have their throats swabbed for testing, test personnel require appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when examining patients. As there is aa shortage of PPE in the US, much of that PPE is appropriately being diverted to hospital systems for ER and ICU use. This will limit testing to mostly hospital settings, along with other specialty sites governments may be able to set up.
Furthermore, since we are seeing a rapid increase in exposure to the novel coronavirus and infections in our area, testing will continue to be prioritized to those patients that are suffering from moderate to severe symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath), especially if those patients require hospitalization; and to those critical workers in our public and private enterprises who are fighting on the front lines of this pandemic. These critical workers include doctors, nurses, hospital and outpatient technicians, as well as police, firefighters, first aid squad members, and public health field workers/
What Should I Do If I Can’t Get Tested for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19?
First, in the great majority of infections, a test is NOT required or useful in taking care of yourself and getting better. As of now, most patients who are infected with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will have either no symptoms, or just a mild upper respiratory infection (URI). Most people will recover by staying home and resting, any other viral illness. Since there is no specific treatment, from an individual patient’s perspective, having a positive test helps provide clarity, but it doesn’t change your care.
Furthermore, to protect the others around you, a test is also not necessary. ALL people should be practicing careful personal hygiene with hand washing, avoidance of touching of your face and others faces, and staying away from others if you are showing symptoms.
This is very similar to how we should handle other viral illnesses.
Even if well, everyone is being asked to maintain social distancing. People who are sick should absolutely limit any unnecessary exposure to others. Within a household, a sick person should isolate themselves into their own room and ideally, utilize one bathroom just for themselves. The general recommendations are that you continue this isolation for at least seven days from when the symptoms began and for at least three days after your fever has resolved and you feel better.
So, what is a patient to do if they think they might have been infected with the novel coronavirus and have developed COVID-19, and yet cannot get tested?
First, don’t panic. If you are feeling ill, reach out to your physician by phone or electronically via the web. If you and your doctor decide you are ill enough that you need to go the emergency room, then go, just let the ER know immediately that you have fever and cough so they can protect themselves.
If you feel well enough to stay home, follow the guidelines above and take good care of yourself. Remember, most people will be just fine and we’ve all had viral illnesses in the past. Now is the time for us to pull together, do what we need to take care of ourselves and our family, but also to protect other more fragile community members. This is our time to shine as a community. We can do this.