COVID-19 testing limited to specific criteria locally, Public Medical Officer says
The state of Colorado and the US government is fighting to contain and slow down the spread of the coronavirus, both locally and nationally. Testing is central to these efforts to determine who has the virus and how to combat it, but a problem states are running into is the inability to administer as many tests needed due to a shortage.
Initially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended testing only people with symptoms and who had potentially been exposed to the virus. But to the surprise of public health officials nationally, several of the first people in the US who tested positive for the virus had no obvious exposure.
This development suggested that the virus was being transmitted locally, meaning it was spreading from person to person easily and/or that people may have been transmitting the virus without experiencing serious symptoms.
In response, on March 4 the CDC changed its recommendations to allow anyone with COVID-19-like symptoms to be tested as long as a doctor approved the request.
There’s two areas of need for testing, according to Moffat County Public Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington: medical need and societal need.
“A medical need for testing is to determine what the disease is doing, where it’s spreading to, and how it’s changing,” Dr. Harrington said. “That’s really the major overriding need to test. But the societal need, that deals with people wanting to know if they have it or not, and if they can return to work and not spread it; I appreciate people wanting that information, especially in a time like this.”
Since the number of available tests is limited, the CDC is encouraging physicians to minimize unnecessary testing and consider a patient’s exposure risks before ordering tests.
As of writing this, there are no specific treatments available for COVID-19, but that does not mean testing is pointless. Perhaps most importantly, testing is done so that infected patients can be quarantined and the spread of the virus slowed.
Another benefit of testing is that it lets public health workers build a more accurate picture of the number of cases and how the virus is spreading in the population.
WHERE AND WHEN TO GET TESTED
Due to the limited number of available tests locally, residents can’t just show up to testing facilities and ask to be tested for the virus.
Most health officials believe it is important to prioritize the testing of people who need it the most: those at high risk such as health care workers who have been in contact with COVID-19 patients; symptomatic people in areas with high infection rates; and people 65 years of age and older with chronic health issues, such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes.
As more tests become available, it will be possible to test more people.
Locally, those that fall into the four general groups needed to be tested can head to Memorial Regional Health’s Rapid Care. MRH Rapid Care has the ability to test patients for COVID-19 if the patient meets specific criteria, as does other clinics in the county, including Northwest Colorado Health.
“What MRH has asked and advised is that if you’re a current patient of an MRH provider, all sick patients go to Rapid Care first to be evaluated,” MRH Vice President of Operations Jennifer Riley said in a statement. “The reason for this is because we are working to segregate the sick from the well. MRH provides many services that support healthy/well patients like orthopaedics, podiatry, dermatology, cardiology, etc. Many of these patients have medical needs other than the need to be seen for illness. The more we can segregate the sick from the well, the more we can limit the potential for a virus – any virus – from spreading unnecessarily.”
Additionally, the Moffat County Public Health Nurse put out a statement Wednesday morning updating the public.
Moffat County Public Health declined to give the number of tests administered in the county at this time. However, the number of positive tests remains at zero locally.
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