Many have written asking about testing. Should I get tested for COVID-19?
Well I begin by saying I will give you the answer for today, but the answer changes day to day as the disease spreads and accelerates nationwide. Why? Because We have in America a critical shortage of tests, so we can’t test all that we should. We have to severely ration tests to where they can do the most good. I’m in the middle, day to day, of the logistics to increase the nationwide supply of tests but it will be two of more weeks before supply is adequate.
The answer … the CDC issues general guidance for who should get tested but leaves the ultimate decision of testing to state and local governments based on resources available, and most importantly to clinicians, based on the needs of their individual patients.
Generally speaking, with shortages still present, the CDC recommends that testing be reserved for those who have the major triad of symptoms we have been seeing with this disease: cough, fever, and difficulty breathing; AND falls into also are one of the following categories:
- If you in the previous 14 days before the onset of fever, cough and difficulty breathing, had close contact with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patient.
- If you are an older adult or an individual with chronic medical conditions that weaken your immune response … like those with heart disease, diabetes, COPD, cancer, or AIDS, among others.
- If you are in the hospital, or
- If you have traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread within 14 days of symptom onset.
So as of now if you don’t have symptoms you do not need to be tested, and if you have symptoms you should only be tested if you fall into one of these 4 categories.
Again, these are general guidelines for prioritization from the CDC, and the decision on whether a patient will need testing is made based on state and local considerations, such as testing availability and extent of community spread, as well as the doctor or nurse judgement based your individual health and circumstance.
The extent of testing opportunities will definitely increase as more kits become available, but for now, if you have mild to moderate symptoms that are not causing severe fever or shortness of breath, stay at home and contact your provider, initially by phone, for individualized guidance on whether you need to be tested or not.
In addition, the CDC has created a new, easy to use “Coronavirus Self-Checker” feature on its website that allows you to go through your symptoms, and it will guide you on appropriate medical care. I highly recommend it.
If you need a COVID-19 test, where do you go?
Your local provider, as well as your County and State Departments of Health, will have information on testing locations. If you have a telemedicine benefit as part of your health plan you can start there.
In my home state of Tennessee, the State Department of Health maintains a list of COVID-19 Assessment Sites by county that is updated daily on its website. Most locations do a phone assessment to determine if an in-person assessment or test is needed. Again, most individuals, particularly those with mild or no symptoms do NOT need a test.
A final note, not so much for the individual but more for the public health community. While increasing the number of tests is fundamental to stopping the spread of this virus, we need to collect and record other essential information as these tests are administered to make intelligent use of the data to end the pandemic. We need to capture the clinical conditions of those tested, how they were exposed to the virus, and how they compare to people who test negative. If we do this, with increased testing and more targeted response, we can much more quickly and safely end the sweeping, broad restrictions of sheltering in place.
Keep your questions coming to this platform, and I will do my best to get the latest, must trusted information to video like this and to my podcast A Second Opinion with Bill Frist. Contact asecondopinionpodcast.com.
Hear more on the 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic and the recommended steps to keep you and your family safe with our continuing COVID-19 series: