NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - With more tests for COVID-19 or the novel coronavirus entering the laboratory landscape many people are hoping to be tested but they will need help from their doctor to make that happen.
Dr. David Schneider, a longtime immunologist and allergist says his office is flooded with calls from concerned patients.
"A lot of calls are starting to come in, people want to know what to do, our patient base has people who have immune-deficiencies so they're at risk for catching things,” said Schneider. “We also have patients with significant lung disease both emphysema, bronchiectasis which is a chronically infected segment of the lungs, some severe labile asthma patients we really don’t want to get exposed to the virus.”
He said the limitations in the number of tests that have been performed could mean more people have COVID-19 but are unaware that they do given a lack of palpable symptoms.
"The virus seems to attack certain receptors in the lung and from there is where the problems really begin, symptoms can be very mild, and a lot of people don't even know that they have it and that's why it's so easily spread because it may have been here long before we started testing anyone for it,” said Schneider.
During an afternoon press briefing at the White House the Trump administration said 1 million tests are ready as big commercial labs like Quest and Lab Corps have now joined state Public Health laboratories in doing testing.
Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary of Health at HHS and head of the U.S. Public Health Service, says by the end of the week that number should grow to 1.9 million tests. Additionally, he said in a couple of weeks the number of available tests should total 5 million.
Dr. Fred Lopez, an LSU Health Infectious Diseases specialist thinks it is critical to ramp up testing.
"I think there's a lot of infection out there that has yet to be diagnosed and the more people we test, the more diagnoses we're going to make and I think we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the number of cases here and elsewhere in this country,” he said.
But a bigger inventory of tests does not mean everyone who desires to be tested for the coronavirus will get their request, especially when it comes to the state-run lab, according to Lopez.
"The state’s Public Health lab criteria includes five groups that they’re going to continue to test, these are going to be hospitalized patients who have respiratory illnesses that have no identifiable cause, flu has been excluded for example. It also includes any homeless individual with suspected COVID-19, it will include people associated with high risk exposure settings with suspected COVID-19, so, in other words nursing homes, institutional settings,” said Lopez.
He said healthcare providers who develop COVID-19 symptoms are also a priority for testing.
“It will also include healthcare providers who develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19 who have had direct contact with a patient that’s been documented to have COVID-19 and then the last group of people will be those expected in an outbreak, in other words a big group of individuals all develop COVID-19-like symptoms at the same time,” Lopez stated.
Further, Lopez stressed that it is really one’s physician who is “ground-zero” in terms of getting access to testing for the virus even if it is at a private lab.
"A healthcare provider still needs to collect the specimens to be sent to the private labs,” he said.
And as the number of COVID-19 cases increases Schneider, who practices in Metairie and Hammond, has taken steps to keep patients with symptoms from sitting in the waiting room. He said they are taken directly to an exam room. He said other procedures are designed to reduce the possible spread of the virus.
"We’d rather not have patients with those symptoms come in with the symptoms of dry cough, fever, muscle aches and fatigue. We want to send them away to a facility that can get them tested,” said Schneider.