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VOL. 44 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 20, 2020

COVID-19 testing is here: What you need to know

There are hurdles, and many who want to be tested don’t need it yet

By Kathy Carlson

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Getting tested for COVID-19 isn’t anything like having bloodwork done for your annual physical. Individuals can’t receive tests on demand, and they sure can’t walk into a drugstore, buy a test and go home and check things out on their own, as with a home pregnancy test.

Hurdles along the way to getting a coronavirus test include having to get the green light from a health care provider and the logistics of who has the tests and how many there are. Conflicting information from the federal government has complicated the picture.

Health care providers are the gatekeepers for testing for coronavirus.

“We recommend people contact their regular health care provider,” says Shelley Walker, director of communications for the Tennessee Department of Health.

“If a provider decides to test, specimen collection can be completed by most health care facilities. Specimens can be sent to the commercial laboratories conducting COVID-19 testing or can be sent to the state laboratory if they meet state testing criteria.”

The state’s testing analyzes samples from patients’ noses and throats, she explains.

The number of kits is not necessarily the same as the number of patients who can be tested. Walker says a patient might provide anywhere from one to three specimens in order to be tested using the CDC-provided kits the Tennessee Department of Health was using. So, 300 kits would be enough to test anywhere from 100 to 300 people.

This is a picture of CDC’s laboratory test kit for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). CDC tests are provided to U.S. state and local public health laboratories, Department of Defense (DOD) laboratories and select international laboratories.

-- Photo Courtesy Of The Cdc

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is doing its own testing now, although not via drive-thru means, says Craig Boerner, senior information officer and national news director. VUMC testing sites are:

• Vanderbilt Health Walk-In Clinic Mt. Juliet, 64 Belinda Parkway

• Vanderbilt Health Walk-In Clinic Melrose, 2608 Eighth Ave. S

• Vanderbilt Health and Williamson Medical Center Walk-In Clinic Spring Hill, 3098 Campbell Station Parkway

• Vanderbilt Health Walk-In Clinic Bellevue, 7069-B, Highway 70 South

• Vanderbilt Health and Williamson County Walk-In Clinic, Cool Springs, 1834 W McEwen Drive

• Vanderbilt Health and Williamson Medical Center Walk-In Clinic, Brentwood, 134 Pewitt Drive

• Vanderbilt Health and Williamson Medical Center Walk-In Clinic, Franklin, 919 Murfreesboro Road

• Vanderbilt Health and Williamson Medical Center Walk-In Clinic Nolensville, 940 Oldham Drive

• Vanderbilt Primary Care Clarksville, 800 Weatherly Street

• Vanderbilt Health Walk-In Clinic Belle Meade, 4534 Harding Pike

• Vanderbilt Primary Care Gallatin, 300 Steam Plant Road

Potential patients should call ahead before going to these sites. Vanderbilt also states VUMC clinicians will not assess patients for COVID-19 who are not exhibiting symptoms of fever, new onset cough or shortness of breath.

In addition, Vanderbilt won’t treat or assess respiratory illnesses at its Vanderbilt Health Clinic at Walgreen’s locations.

VUMC states it “has performed hundreds of laboratory tests for patients who have exhibited symptoms of COVID-19.” Results are available to patients online. Vanderbilt researchers also are working on a coronavirus vaccine and investigating possible new treatments.

Two private lab companies that do business in Tennessee, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, say they have rolled out coronavirus testsin the past two weeks.

Both companies say patient specimens should be collected in health care providers’ offices – not at the companies’ facilities – for testing at the providers’ request. Nasal and throat swabs are sent to the labs, and expected turnaround for both tests was three to four days, barring spikes in demand or other contingencies.

LabCorp states it first made its test available March 5, with specimens received the next day. The company can run several thousand tests per day, and new equipment and staff are being added, it states. At this time, the test can be ordered anywhere in the U.S. by physicians or other health care providers. LabCorp is working to expand testing at its facilities across the country.

Quest began its testing for COVID-19 March 9. Its test was developed at Quest’s labs in California. Quest’s test is available nationally, and the company says it hopes to expand processing of the tests to “additional high-complexity Quest Diagnostics laboratories in the coming weeks.”

The test has not been FDA authorized; it has been validated according to certain procedures of the Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services. FDA review of the CLIA validation is pending.

Nationally, the CDC reports online that as of March 13, nearly 20,000 specimens were tested at its own laboratories, 48 state public health laboratories, and government laboratories in New York City, nine California counties and the United States Air Force.

Tennessee’s public health laboratory was among the state labs included in the testing data. The numbers include incomplete tallies for specimens tested from March 10-13. The data do not include tests carried out elsewhere, including those done at private laboratories.

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