GREENSBORO — As COVID-19 cases increase in North Carolina, local residents with symptoms have a variety of options to be screened for the virus.
Screenings usually involve an evaluation of symptoms and questions about travel history and exposure to positive cases. A screening is necessary, health care officials say, to determine if someone should be tested for COVID-19.
Even then, testing availability may depend on where you live and which medical site you visit.
“At this time, Wake Forest Baptist Health is testing the sickest patients and those who are being admitted to our hospitals,” spokesman Joe McCloskey said Friday, noting test kits are in short supply and they are trying to conserve them.
Cone Health announced Friday a decision to close its drive-thru collection site, which required patients to have a doctor’s order to be tested. The decision was made to help preserve the supply of protective gear needed within hospitals, officials said.
People without specific symptoms are not likely to be tested for the virus, officials said.
“Visiting a screening center unnecessarily will only further one’s risk of exposure and put a strain on resources for those who need it most,” a Novant Health spokesman told the News & Record last week.
While hospital officials want to assure people they will be well cared for if they get sick, some acknowledge that a national shortage of supplies is concerning — especially as the number of cases increases.
“There is a critical (and global) shortage of the swabs and other supplies needed. As we run low on swabs, it could hurt our ability to do tests,” said Alan Wolf, a spokesman for UNC Health. “UNC Health is joining other health organizations in urging federal regulators to ease regulations, a move that would accelerate and expand testing.”
Residents with symptoms (fever, cough, etc.) should first call their doctor or a health care facility before heading to a doctor’s office, urgent care or emergency room. This will help minimize exposure to other people, officials said.
If someone is having difficulty breathing or experiencing other urgent medical symptoms, they should call 911 or seek immediate treatment, Wolf said. If a patient is brought to a UNC emergency department with serious medical issues, they will be screened, put into an isolation room and treated, he said.
UNC Health has also established temporary Respiratory Diagnostic Centers, including one in Eden near UNC Rockingham Health Care. This is not a walk-in clinic, and patients need to be referred there for COVID-19 testing, Wolf said.
People with COVID-19 symptoms who go to Cone Health emergency departments may be assessed in triage tents outside entrances, according to a news release issued Friday. If people have severe symptoms, they will be admitted to a hospital for care. If not, they will be sent home to self-quarantine and recover, the release said.
Novant has established multiple screening centers for people with symptoms. People do not need a physician referral to visit one of these centers, a spokeswoman said.
Another option is telemedicine (virtual or video visits), which can quickly connect people with a doctor online. Even if you do not have a doctor, most area residents can get access to MyChart, which will allow people to go online to answer a series of health-related questions to be reviewed by a health care provider.
That provider can then determine if you need additional care or over-the-counter and/or prescription medicine.
Prescriptions will be made available for pickup at your preferred pharmacy.
Waiting for results
If you have symptoms of the virus and are tested, don’t expect results back immediately. It’s not like waiting in a doctor’s office for a flu test result, but officials hope that will soon change.
Some health systems are now able to run tests at their facilities, and some are working with independent labs, or both. The range in time from the point the test is taken until the time a result is provided can be up to four days, according to some health systems.
Local hospital officials say they realize patients and staff share many of the same concerns as information and processes seem to change daily.
“Avoiding exposure to the infection and preventing its spread is the best way to combat it,” a Novant Health spokeswoman said. “Social distancing and self-isolation at home are an important part of community response and how we care for the most vulnerable among us.”