There has understandably been much discussion in recent days about who should receive a test for COVID-19. In the perfect world, the answer would be everyone with symptoms. But based on the current shortage of test kits and trained test administrators, comprehensive testing like this is not always possible.
The good news is that whether or not a patient with virus-like symptoms has been tested does not in and of itself impact his or her medical treatment.
Here’s a look at some frequently asked questions.
Q. Can’t doctors take better care of me if they know I’ve tested positive for the virus?
A. Whether or not a patient has been tested does not change the physician’s treatment options. There are currently no medications specifically for COVID-19. Doctors treat patients with COVID-19 mainly based on their symptoms and any complications. For example, a person with COVID-19 symptoms — minor or significant — who has been diagnosed through a test will be medically treated in the same manner as an undiagnosed person with the same symptoms. If a doctor determines that a patient’s symptoms require hospitalization, that person will be hospitalized regardless of whether or not they have received a positive COVID-19 test.
Q. If a positive test doesn’t change the way a person is medically treated, why test anyone?
A. There are a number of important reasons to test people for COVID-19. When testing supplies are limited, we must prioritize our use for those instances where the benefit is greatest:
- Hospitalized Patients. It is particularly important to test hospitalized patients who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 so we can be sure that the healthcare providers who are caring for them are wearing the proper protective equipment and following all necessary precautionary procedures to minimize the risk of spreading the virus to themselves and other patients. It is imperative that we minimize the risk of exposure to other hospitalized people whose immune systems and overall health are already compromised, and that we keep as many healthcare professionals as possible healthy and on the job to care for those of us who are ill.
- Healthcare Professionals and First Responders. It is important to have testing kits available for healthcare professionals and first responders who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 so that the virus can be confirmed or ruled out, and they can return to patient care and protecting the community as soon as they are deemed healthy by a physician and public health officials.
Testing of non-hospitalized people with COVID-19 symptoms is also important because if we can confirm that a patient has the virus, public health officials can attempt to reach people who have been in contact with the patient and require that they enter self-quarantine in an effort to prevent the spread of the illness.
Testing of all symptomatic people also helps give us the most accurate accounting possible of the number of COVID-19 cases and how that number is growing or coming under control.
But while these are both compelling reasons to test — and would merit testing in the perfect world — when testing kits are limited, and because testing does not change the way in which a patient is medically treated, priorities must be placed on protecting our most seriously ill patients and the people who care for them.
Q. If I have COVID-19 symptoms, but don’t qualify for a test, what should I do?
A. The first thing you should do is consult with your primary care doctor immediately. If you do not have a primary care doctor, you should call your county public health office. In general, people exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms who have not been advised by a physician or public health professional to go to the hospital, should go into self-quarantine at home for 14 days, practice proper social distancing and preventive hygiene measures, and follow any prescribed treatment regimen. If symptoms worsen or do not go away, you should once again contact your doctor or your county public health office.
Q. To what degree should I stay away from other people if I have symptoms but have not received a test?
A. You should stay at home, separate yourself as much as possible from other people and follow these precautionary guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control.
Glens Falls Hospital is committed to doing all we can to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community and to care for anyone who may at some point require hospitalization due to the virus. We appreciate your interest in learning more about COVID-19 testing, and we thank you for doing all you can to protect our community. Stay home and stay healthy!