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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: More, faster testing needed to slow spread of COVID-19

Good news for Indiana — the state has increased its ability to test people for the coronavirus.

But while more testing and quicker reporting of results can help slow the spread of COVID-19, the fact is, not everyone should be tested and only certain people will be given top priority for testing due to limited supplies.

Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said Wednesday patients given priority for testing for the novel coronavirus would include pregnant women and certain high-risk individuals such as those with high blood pressure.

“We have increased testing capacity significantly over several weeks,” Box said at a news briefing Wednesday, adding that it has come through Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co. and other private laboratories. She said Lilly performed 458 tests on Tuesday and that the health department distributed 3,000 additional testing kits to nine Indiana hospitals on Wednesday.

The World Health Organization supports widespread testing, according to a story Monday in The Atlantic. But there are different approaches around the world due to supplies, shortages and priorities.

The Atlantic story emphasized the importance of testing, “because asking people with mild symptoms just to stay home will lead to more infections in the household and community. If tested and positive, people can either be isolated in a facility … or put on strict home isolation … On the other hand, resources are limited, and when the health care system is overloaded you don’t want a lot of non-sick people coming to health facilities.”

The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, and the vast majority recover. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Not everyone needs to be tested for the COVID-19 virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has several prioritized guidelines (go to cdc.gov) for who should be tested, but decisions about testing are at the discretion of state and local health departments and/or individual clinicians.

Testing for COVID-19 is not currently available on demand or by request, according to the Allen County Department of Health.

County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan recently stated that COVID-19 testing is still limited, and the confirmation of positive cases in our community does not mean everyone needs to be tested. She says those with a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and a cough should call their health care provider to determine their next course of action.

We think the call for more testing and faster results, however, reflects a legitimate need, and not only because it helps track the pandemic.

“For hospitals, coronavirus tests are a crucial tool in managing scarce resources,” according to The Atlantic. “If a patient comes in with COVID-19-like symptoms, doctors and nurses must act as if the patient has the virus. They must don personal protective equipment, or PPE, every time they interact with the patient until he or she tests negative for the coronavirus. Because the majority of tests still come back negative in most places, hospitals wind up burning through their supply of PPE while taking care of patients who do not actually have the coronavirus.”

“We are in the midst of a major health crisis, a pandemic, and testing provides an important tool for stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus,” said American Family Care physician Dr. Robert S. Levy in a statement to nbcnewyork.com. “Having results quickly provides important peace of mind for those who test negative, and those who test positive then know to immediately self-quarantine or seek further medical care.”

American Family Care, the largest privately owned operator of urgent care and accessible primary care facilities in the U.S., is the first health care provider in the nation to provide the rapid test for the detection of COVID-19, which gives positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes.

Three urgent care locations in Long Island, N.Y., are offering a test that is also capable of delivering positive results in as little as five minutes — the first in the nation to provide the fastest available molecular point-of-care test, according to nbcnewyork.com.

Rutgers University in New Jersey, meanwhile, has launched a genetic testing service for the coronavirus that allows for thousands of samples to be analyzed daily.

While major developments are occurring throughout the country, it is important that they be implemented swiftly and effectively. These efforts will provide information that allows people who test positive to self-quarantine and, in turn, limit the spread of the virus.

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