Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
In the face of mixed messages and confusion about who can or should be tested for the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted updated guidance for doctors on Sunday about when to test a patient.
The short answer is, if your doctor thinks a test is appropriate, he or she can request the test. But a request doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get one.
Confused? You’re not alone.
There’s still a big gap between what the federal government is promising and what state and local labs can deliver.
Right now the CDC is telling doctors in its new guidance that they should use their own medical judgment and then “work with their local health departments to coordinate testing through public health laboratories.” But those labs have a limited capacity to test, so some have been turning down doctors’ requests.
The novel coronavirus test isn’t simple, like the ones for the flu, strep or pregnancy. The kits detecting the coronavirus are configured more for a research lab than a hospital — and certainly can’t be run in a doctor’s office. It takes four to six hours to perform the tests on patient samples. And while in principle tests can be run in batches of about 100, that’s a challenge for smaller labs.
The contractor that is producing these test kits for public health labs is also mass-producing them for hospital labs, but it’s unclear as of Tuesday to what extent hospital labs have acquired the kits, demonstrated that they are capable of getting reliable results and begun testing.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Monday that over 1 million tests have been shipped and “are now out.” Out where is not so clear. The American Hospital Association couldn’t provide any information about the use of this test among its members.
“Our members are anxiously awaiting them,” says Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Association.
Kaiser Permanente, one of the major providers of health care along the heavily impacted West Coast, says it is currently sending samples from its patients to public health labs. Kaiser Permanente is developing its own test, but that may take several weeks, a spokesman tells NPR. Geisinger Health Plan, another large HMO in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, has not received test kits either.
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