Mar 21, 2020 - Health

Local officials limit coronavirus testing to health workers and high-risk patients

COVID-19 testing sign on a busy street
Photo: John Paraskevas/Newsday RM/Getty Images

In cities and states with sharp spikes in novel coronavirus cases, officials are restricting testing to health care workers and those who have been hospitalized — signaling a new phase in the pandemic response, The Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: The advisory shows the spread of COVID-19 is overwhelming parts of the American health care system, the Post writes. The U.S. isn't familiar with making trade-offs between the "individual and societal good," given its wealth and advanced health care system.

  • While, a test result may be reassuring for some individuals with mild symptoms, the resources used to perform the test could be redirected to possibly save another life.

What they're saying: The new messaging indicates that more people can get tested, but those with mild symptoms should avoid doing so and practice social distancing.

  • The other side: Health experts' warnings come as the Trump administration announces millions of test kits and drive-through sites are becoming more widely available.

The state of play: Cases of COVID-19 are spiking in California, New York, Washington state and other U.S. communities. Health officials are focused on conserving masks, ventilators and hospital beds.

  • Los Angeles County health officials recommended on Thursday that physicians avoid testing patients as a containment strategy. They instead suggested patients should be tested only if a positive result could change their treatment plan.
    • The department “is shifting from a strategy of case containment to slowing disease transmission and averting excess morbidity and mortality,” the Post writes citing a letter from LA County health officials
  • Sacramento officials have ordered residents to stay home except for essential activities.
  • Washington state medical workers have resorted to using makeshift protective gear from Home Depot and craft stores. Officials are limiting testing to health care workers, individuals with severe symptoms and those at a high risk.

The bottom line: "As the flu season recedes, people with cough and fever will increasingly just have to presume they have covid19," the Post writes.

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