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COVID-19 Testing Hits Second Wall: Lack of Supplies

COVID-19 Testing Hits Second Wall: Lack of Supplies


  • People who don’t have symptoms

The CDC also says that doctors should use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and whether they should be tested. COVID-19 is a reportable disease, so any doctor who runs a test must report the results to the state health department.

The latest CDC guidance on testing to clinicians recommends working with their state and local health departments to coordinate testing through public health laboratories, or working with clinical or commercial laboratories to obtain tests.

But those avenues came up short when Viswanathan tried to get testing for a patient who seemed like a textbook case.

The 28-year-old woman, a single mother, had visited Italy, including Milan, for 10 days in early March and then had a cough, a low-grade fever, and shortness of breath. The woman also worked at Newark Airport screening people, so she was concerned about infecting others.

Despite calls to the New Jersey Department of Health, two hospitals in New Jersey, including Trinitas Regional Medical Center where Viswanathan is an attending doctor, and three private labs — Quest, LabCorp, and Accu Reference — the answer was the same: Her patient was too young.

Viswanathan’s practice has since received 15 diagnostic test kits with the nasopharyngeal swabs to test for COVID-19. Her staff have also scrounged up a few N95 masks. The staff will give the new tests, but more will be needed along with personal protective gear.

In addition, a new drive-thru testing center has opened in New Jersey’s Union County, for residents only, in partnership with local universities and hospitals.

Viswanathan says testing results can change public behavior.

“At least having something on a piece of paper that says ‘you have this virus, stay at home and don’t infect others,’ especially the elderly grandmother or the immunocompromised relative, could go a long way in the coming months towards prevention, which is my ultimate goal. Knowing who is positive can keep these patients from spreading it,” she says.

Easier access to testing and more accurate numbers of who has the disease in the general population, like in South Korea, “could keep our vulnerable population safer, and contain the virus somewhat more quickly.”

Janice McDonald contributed to this report.


Eric Blank, DrPH, chief program officer, Association of Public Health Laboratories.

Julie McSweeney, Austell, GA.

Ashish Jha, MD, professor of global health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Craig Boerner, spokesperson, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville.

Anjali Viswanathan, MD, internal medicine doctor in private outpatient practice, Roselle, NJ.

Adam Wheeler, MD, chief executive officer and medical director, Big Tree Medical Home, Columbia, MO.

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