Here’s how the US is handling coronavirus testing

There are different ways you can be tested

A laboratory technician prepares COVID-19 patient samples for semi-automatic testing at Northwell Health Labs, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Lake Success, N.Y. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved faster testing protocols as the viral outbreak continues to spread worldwide. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A laboratory technician prepares COVID-19 patient samples for semi-automatic testing at Northwell Health Labs, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Lake Success, N.Y. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved faster testing protocols as the viral outbreak continues to spread worldwide. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

As more cases of coronavirus appear globally, the need to test more people who may have COVID-19 grows.

But many people are asking, “What is the testing process like?” “Is it invasive?” and “How many tests are available?”

ARE THERE ENOUGH TESTING KITS TO GO AROUND?

To be able to test for COVID-19 infections, kits have to be available for clinical use.

There has been a major shortage of COVID-19 testing kits, causing U.S. health officials to initially restrict testing for only the sickest of patients, CNN reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then drastically widened the testing criteria for people with symptoms of the coronavirus. CNN reported the CDC formally removed restrictions that limited COVID-19 testing of the general public to people in the hospital unless they had close contact with confirmed coronavirus cases.

According to the CDC, clinicians should now “use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and whether the patient should be tested.”

In Central Florida, News 6 asked Orlando Health and Advent Health if someone shows up to an emergency room requesting a test if they would receive one.

In a statement, Orlando Health officials said people having symptoms will be asked if they have been outside of the U.S. and if they have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus in the last 14 days. If the answer is yes, the person will go through additional screenings.

If it is determined the person should be tested, Orlando Health will collect the specimens and they will be shipped to the Department of Health in Jacksonville or Tampa for testing, according to the statement.

WHAT IS THE TESTING PROCESS? IS IT INVASIVE?

Should healthcare professionals deem symptoms to match those of the coronavirus, the CDC recommends physicians collect and test upper and lower respiratory samples from patients with coughs that bring up phlegm.

To collect these samples, doctors will use one of two methods, according to the CDC.

Doctors may elect to collect a sample from the nasopharynx, the area at the base of your skull above the roof of the mouth. A finger-swab is generally used to collect that sample. Physicians may also insert a swab into the nostril, slanted parallel to the roof of the mouth. The swab is left in the nose for a seconds to collect secretions, according to the CDC.

Respiratory samples from those who have wet coughs may also be collected. The CDC recommends that doctors have patients rinse the mouth with water and then spit deep into a sterile container.

Medline reports that blood samples may also be collected to detect coronavirus, or a nasal aspirate may be conducted in which a sterile saline solution is injected into the nose, then extracted with gentle suction.

If a doctor elects to conduct a tracheal aspirate, a health care provider will put a thin tube with a light, called a bronchoscope, down the mouth and into the lungs where a sample will be collected.

The CDC said samples are then shipped to a lab with testing capabilities.

According to the FDA, experts are looking for ways to commercialize CoVID-19 diagnostic kits; this would allow laboratories to use tests they develop faster in order to achieve more rapid testing capacity in the United States.

Once a sample arrives at a lab, technicians will perform a reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction to search for the virus within the sample, according to CNN. A similar test can be used to diagnose the flu, and functions by allowing clinicians to detect a certain genetic sequence within the sample.

If a sample is confirmed to be viral, it will be sent to the CDC in Atlanta where the positive result will be double checked for accuracy, according to health experts.

It is also important to note the differences between testing and screening. Screening involves a health care professional asking questions related to travel, and potential symptoms and habits, whereas testing means an actual sample has been taken from the body to be sent to a lab.

Some hospitals in Central Florida have begun screening everyone who enters their premises.

WHAT SYMPTOMS SHOULD PROMPT TESTING?

According to the WHO data of 55,924 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China—the country with the most confirmed cases worldwide—the most common symptoms were fever found in 87.9% of patients and dry cough reported in 67% of cases.

The third most common symptom was fatigue, in about 40% of cases, according to OurWorldInData.org.

Every third patient in China experienced sputum production, which is thick mucus coughed up from the lungs, according to WHO.

The CDC list fever, cough and shortness of breath as the most common symptoms. Shortness of breath is the fifth most common symptom, according to the Our World In Data analysis of China coronavirus cases.

[READ MORE: ’I feel sick and think I might have COVID-19. What should I do?']

Anyone who feels ill and thinks they may have coronavirus should contact their doctor before showing up at the hospital. Not all hospitals have the necessary testing kits to determine if someone has a positive case of the disease.

The CDC is advising anyone who has traveled internationally, to any location and is feeling sick to self-isolate for at least 14 days upon their return to the U.S.

[READ MORE: Coronavirus: Here’s what it means to self-isolate]


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