On February 29, less than one month ago, the US reported 16 cases of COVID-19. Today, the US has the third-highest number of cases in the world (behind China and Italy) topping 46,548 cases and at least 600 deaths, reflecting mass community spread and an uptick in testing capacities across the states. As daunting as the US case number may seem, various modeling and research analysis show that the rate of cases is accelerating, and we could be another 6 weeks or longer away from the peak of cases. Since COVID-19 cases were first detected in the Seattle area in mid-February, America struggled to execute a streamlined-nationwide testing process. Underestimating the rapid spread of the virus, coupled with early faulty and delayed tests hindered the US’ ability to get accurate tests out. While it’s worrisome that the US is the third hardest-hit nation, the time lost to accurately test people in those early days and weeks of community spread suggests that the US case count is actually much higher.

State Directed Testing

After the initial botched roll-out, CDC-developed diagnostic testing kits have been successfully verified and are in-use at public labs at each state and territory in the US, and more tests are being developed and rolled out by private labs, university medical centers, the tech sector and more. While US testing capacity has increased, there remains confusion as to who should/can be tested. Those decisions are made at the state and local level and/or individual clinicians. If you or someone you know may have been infected with COVID-19, you will need to call your local/state health departments and/or your healthcare provider to discern the next steps to get tested.

Restricting Tests

As the US shifts into a more aggressive pandemic response, hard-hit areas like California and New York are restricting COVID-19 testing for healthcare workers and those already critically sick. The move from advocating widespread testing for the public, to testing only those that are considered the most vulnerable, is a reflection of the overstressed healthcare systems in those areas and the inability to stop the spread of the disease.

Actions like this will likely happen in other states across the United States to preserve and protect our healthcare system’s scare supplies and resources – ventilators, PPE equipment (masks, gloves, gowns) available hospital beds – and the healthcare workers themselves.

Rapid Testing

The FDA has granted authorization to a Cepheid, a California-based company, to begin shipping to state labs on-demand COVID-19 testing kits that produce results within 45 minutes. State depending, the current wait time for test results range from 24-hours to 4-days. Infected persons can spread the virus to 2-3 people, making that turnaround time incredibly dangerous to the public and to our nation’s healthcare system. As hospital systems continue to feel the pressure of patient-demand and lack of resources, faster turnaround times of test results could have a major impact in alleviating the strain on the medical community.

Americans Should “Use Discretion” Before Seeking a Test

As states and health officials work to improve testing capacity and authorize the use of more rapid testing kits, the CDC has urged Americans to “use discretion” before seeking a test. Most people will only experience mild symptoms and should be able to recover at home. Dr. Fauci, the Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) and a member of the White House coronavirus task team, says that those who do not need to be tested and do anyway “consume Personal Protective Equipment – masks and gowns. Those are a high priority for the healthcare workers … and we want to make sure that people who are taking care of coronavirus patients do not endanger themselves [further] because they don’t have PPE’s.”

If you or someone you know shows the following symptoms, then it is advised to seek medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent chest pain
  • New confusion or inability to rise
  • Bluish lips

*This is not a complete list. Contact your health professional if you have other severe symptoms.