Why Can’t Everyone Be Tested: COVID-19?

Why Can’t Everyone Be Tested: COVID-19?

Originally published April 20, 2020. Updated May 6, 2020 regarding testing availability in MN.

One main concern about COVID-19 involves testing for the virus. The testing criteria are updated frequently and the good news is that testing capability has increased in MN so more people can get tested. Hospitals and clinics are recommended to follow MDH testing guidelines so the people who need them most, are able to get one.

We understand that not being able to test everyone for COVID-19 is a point of frustration for many people. Remember this is a new virus. The only thing we know for sure is to anticipate continued change.

Manufacturers have been working overtime to develop a test, submit the plan to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for approval, obtain Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), secure manufacturing supplies and facilities, and distribute these supplies across the nation. Under normal conditions, this process would have taken years to accomplish but due to the extraordinary circumstances, the process has been expedited.

It is also important to remember that on a national level, testing supplies are sent to areas of the country that need them most. That allows areas like New York to run tests for the patients that critically need them.

What are the different tests the news is talking about?

art image of lab cell

The main test being used across the country is rt-PCR (reverse transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction), it looks for the virus and means you have the infection. The sample is obtained through a nasal swab. The process of collecting and analyzing the sample is fairly labor-intensive and requires a high complexity lab. At this point, it takes approximately 3 days to get results because the swabs need to be sent to a regional lab for testing.

The new test you may be hearing about is an antibody test. This test is used to detect the presence of antibodies that the body has formed against the virus. This is different than the rt-PCR that detects the active virus. Currently, the antibody test requires a blood sample and can be run in a hospital laboratory. This test is NOT used to diagnose patients with active symptoms. The virus is so new, scientists are still learning if antibodies protect against reinfection and there are concerns about the accuracy of the tests to detect the correct antibodies for this specific coronavirus vs. other common ones such as a cold. Test results should always be discussed with your provider for the most accurate interpretation.

A potential use for the antibody test is to redeploy health care workers who have been quarantined due to infection, to screen plasma donors, and in the future to evaluate the performance of potential vaccines. It is important to note that some people, including elderly and immune-compromised individuals, may not form these antibodies.

Convalescent Plasma

You may have heard that Mayo Clinic is doing a study on convalescent plasma treatment. This is where plasma from recently recovered COVID-19 patients is given to people who are currently sick. According to the study website, “COVID-19 convalescent plasma has not yet been demonstrated to provide clinical benefit in patients affected by this disease… but this is one of the only treatments we have at present.” Visit the study website at www.uscovidplasma.org for more information. The American Red Cross also has information about where plasma can be donated, go to www.redcrossblood.org. Anticipate additional information to be available in the upcoming weeks and months regarding the convalescent plasma trials.

What if I want to get tested for COVID-19? When in doubt – call the hotline.

At the onset of mild to moderate symptoms, call the GRHS COVID-19 hotline at 320.334.5481 to talk with a nurse. It may be determined you meet the MDH criteria and should be tested. You will be given information about where to go for the test at GRHS in Glenwood. If not, you will get information about how you can take care of yourself to manage your symptoms through the course of the virus. Information is available on our website at resource.glacialridge.org, including links to the CDC and MDH websites.

If your lab test was positive for COVID-19, or if you have COVID-19 symptoms and were not tested or are awaiting test results, follow the CDC’s self-isolation recommendations. The recommendations are the same for both suspected and lab-confirmed. This includes staying home and isolating yourself the best you can from others in your home. If possible, do not be the primary caregiver in your household. Clean and disinfect your home regularly. Everyone should wash their hands frequently and avoid touching faces. Have all necessary items delivered to you to avoid going to public areas. Take care of yourself by getting adequate rest and staying hydrated.

The first lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 in Pope County was announced by MDH on May 4, 2020. The combined efforts of everyone during Minnesota’s Executive Order to Stay Home is worth the sacrifice as Glacial Ridge Health System and other hospitals in our area prepare for what is still to be unknown in the upcoming weeks and months. The Minnesota Department of Health provides an update of cases per county at 11:00 am daily, including the number of people with confirmed cases in Minnesota who have recovered. The websites for the agencies listed above are www.cdc.gov, www.who.int, and www.health.state.mn.us