Getting tested for coronavirus: The ins and outs

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With panic spreading quicker than the disease itself, how can one decipher regular, run-of-the-mill illnesses from coronavirus?

Assistant Mosaic Editor

Fever. Cough. Fatigue. All of these are common ailments of illnesses such as the flu, severe colds and strep throat. However, they are also symptoms of coronavirus. With panic spreading quicker than the disease itself, how can one decipher regular, run-of-the-mill illnesses from coronavirus?

The only true way to diagnose a positive case of coronavirus involves a sample specimen from the respiratory tract being sent to and tested at a qualified lab. The sample can be taken either by way of an oral or nasal swab, similar to tests for both strep and the flu.

Dr. Timothy Dowling, the director of Student Health Services at the university, explained that administering the test itself goes quickly, but the time it takes to hear back about results varies.

“To do the swab, [it takes] about 10-20 seconds,” Dowling said. “It is then sent to the state lab or to LabCorp for processing which can take 1 to 2 days for the state lab and up to five days for LabCorp.”

Although the test itself is easy to administer and take, getting your hands on one is another story. With major shortages of test kits across the globe, healthcare providers have had to set strict regulations for who is eligible to be tested based on symptoms, underlying health problems and risk level.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has instructed healthcare providers to prioritize testing for: (1) symptomatic individuals who have been hospitalized, (2) symptomatic individuals who are older adults or have chronic medical conditions and/or an immunocompromised state, and (3) anyone who, within 14 days of symptom onset, had close contact with a positive case or who has traveled from an affected geographic area in the 14 days since their symptom onset.

Molly Doyle, a medical nursing resident at Christiana Care in Delaware, explained that while all patients entering the hospital are being screened for coronavirus, tests are being given out sparingly.

“Tests are so limited, and we’re trying to avoid a shortage and limit the depletion of our resources,” Doyle said. “We’re trying to avoid using resources unnecessarily, we don’t run a test unless we have a specific reason to.”

In accordance with the CDC’s recommendations, the hospital is severely limiting all entries to the hospital, with all incoming traffic required to undergo a screening prior to entering the hospital. This screening includes questions about symptoms, travel and contact with potentially infected personnel.

“Christiana is screening everyone when they come to the hospital,” Doyle said. “If you show no symptoms, you are allowed in, those who are suspected to have the virus are immediately confined to a specific coronavirus unit.”

Because the illness is particularly dangerous for elderly adults and other high-risk populations such as immunocompromised patients, it is possible that even individuals who exhibit symptoms of the virus will not receive a test if they are otherwise healthy. Instead, they will be given advice to care for themselves at home and advised to self-quarantine for at least 14 days.

Anyone who suspects they may be infected or who is interested in getting tested should call their healthcare provider to discuss their symptoms and ways of entry to the medical location. For students still on campus or who live nearby, Student Health Services is still open, though with modified hours. Dowling explained that the best way to go about using the university’s healthcare system is to call first.

“When a student calls for an appointment for suspected coronavirus, a nurse will ask the student a series of questions to determine risk for coronavirus and then discuss with the student how to enter Laurel Hall,” Dowling said. “Patients suspected of coronavirus will be asked to put a mask on upon entering the building and immediately lead into a private room and the nurse and doctor will examine the student and determine if testing is necessary.”

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