Not Everyone Will Be Tested for Covid-19, Here's Who Will
Updated: Mar 21, 2020
Whitney H. Mitchell, MD
Not everyone who wants to be tested for Covid-19 will be tested in the foreseeable future. Coronavirus Test Kits are in short supply in Texas and in the nation, and the test itself for Covid-19 is complicated. Some lab tests are quick and simple like testing for blood glucose with a glucometer or dipping a test strip in a urine sample; testing for the Coronavirus is a multi-step process.
Because viruses are so tiny, detecting them takes a lot of work and specialized equipment. To test for Coronavirus, a health professional must collect a throat swab and send the sample into a lab. Researchers at the lab then extract the genetic material, make copies of the virus genome using a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test, and then look specifically for 2 genes unique to Covid-19. If both genes are present, the test is considered positive; if 1 gene is positive, the test is inconclusive; and if 0 genes are found, the test is negative. Since the test itself is labor-intensive and requires large equipment, most hospitals and clinics are not capable of testing in their own facility and must send samples to large, commercial laboratories.
Since not everyone can feasibly be tested for Covid-19, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) have offered guidelines for health professionals to follow when caring for their patients with flu-like symptoms. The guidelines are subject to change once more Coronavirus Test Kits become available, but currently the following high-risk groups are being prioritized for testing:
1. Patients in the intensive care unit with unexplained pneumonia
2. Patients with a fever AND in close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19
3. Health professionals who have been exposed to patients with Covid-19
4. Patients with a fever and/or cough who have recently traveled to an area with known risk for Covid-19
5. Patients with a fever and/or cough AND are either over age 65, immunosuppressed, or have certain chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease, or chronic kidney disease.
For those people who are in one of these high-risk groups, the CDC recommends contacting your doctor and letting them know about your concerns. If you are in this high risk group and need help finding a doctor, Texas Department of Human Services has created a specialized service to help. Dial 2‑1‑1 from any phone, and they will direct you to low- or no-cost providers who can help.
For the rest of us who are not in one of these high-risk groups, the Covid-19 test will not likely be available in the near future. It is important to remember, however, that a positive test does not change treatment guidelines. There is no anti-viral treatment for Coronavirus. For the vast majority of people, the symptoms of Covid-19 will be mild, like a cold or flu-like illness, and the best place to recover will be at home in bed.
To find more information, including a "Coronavirus Self-checker" and how to care for yourself at home, check out the CDC website:
Texas Department of Health and Human Services also provides easy-to-read information about Covid-19, testing, symptoms, and high-risk groups.
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Dr. Whitney Mitchell is a physician in New Braunfels, Texas. She is a diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, has been in private practice for 11 years, and has an interest in public health.