Why states like New York and Washington are limiting COVID-19 testing
  • Hard-hid states like Washington, New York, and California are restricting COVID-19 testing to top priority groups who need it most.
  • The lack of personal protective equipment and testing supplies continues to hamper efforts to diagnosis those who are sick and prevent additional spread of COVID-19.
  • People in hard-hit areas are being told to stay home and assume community spread of the disease.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Want a COVID-19 test? At this point, it depends what a physician says. Log on to Washington State’s health department website and navigate to its information on coronavirus testing and you’ll see this:

“People do not always need to be tested for clinical care purposes since there is currently no medication to treat COVID-19.”

Washington, New York, and California are some states that are cracking down on who gets tested for COVID-19. Even those who are sick with mild symptoms are advised to stay home and call their healthcare provider. 

The reasoning for limited testing comes down to the same reason the US isn’t faring well in its fight against the novel coronavirus: A lack of resources. 

Specifically, a lack of diagnostic testing materials, like nasal swabs, and a lack of protective equipment for medical professionals. As a result, medical facilities are overrun with cases, which has triggered this need for more limited testing. 

“We don’t have enough tests to test everyone and we have to prioritize them for where it matters for care,” Dr. Emmy Betz, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine told Business Insider. Betz is advocating on social media to get doctors more personal protective equipment to treat patients.

Who should get tested

Every state is a bit different, Betz said. While there are national, state, and local guidelines, there are no “hard and fast” rules about who gets a test and who doesn’t, which adds to a lot of confusion. 

According to CDC guidelines, those who warrant top priority testing are as follows:

  • Priority 1: Symptomatic health care workers are a top priority because they could easily spread the virus to others on the job.
  • Priority 2: First responders with symptoms are the next priority. 

Betz said at this point, everyone in the country needs to assume there is community spread. She adds that coming to a hospital to get tested when they are faring okay at home could cause more harm than good. Limited amounts of personal protective equipment means items like masks are not getting changed as often as they should between patients — so coming to the hospital could get you sick even if you weren’t already.

Since the severity of COVID-19 cases largely varies across states and cities, the state and local health authorities can adapt the CDC’s advice depending on the situation. For more information on whether you should get tested, check your local health department website. 

Limited testing hampers the country’s fight against coronavirus

The current limited testing situation in the United States goes against what the World Health Organization advises to stem the flow of this pandemic. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on March 16 that testing is the key: “You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected.”

Moreover, experts say that widespread testing could be our ticket to getting out of lockdown mode — understanding who is sick, who is not, and who has recovered will make it easier to isolate those who need to quarantine versus those who can return to work. But the CDC is not reporting state-by-state testing capacity, which makes it difficult to know the extent of the testing shortfall.  

And this issue of a shortage in testing supplies continues to hamper efforts to contain the pandemic. “In an ideal world, we would have already had the ability to do widespread community testing, but at this point, we don’t have that,” Betz said.

As more tests become available, another issue is arising — not enough results. 

California got a shipment of 150,000 test kits from Hong Kong and have expanded the number of labs able to run tests. It has added commercial and university labs to the mix — but now the state has a backlog of over 48,000 tests waiting for results.

For now, Betz explained, we need to stay put. “Two or three weeks ago, if we could have tested every single person, we could have potentially gotten the situation more under control. This did not happen, so this is why the guidance is for everyone to stay home.” 

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