Local testing capabilities improve

By Dan Colton
of The Beacon staff

Following updated guidelines from state health experts, local healthcare providers report an increase in coronavirus testing capabilities.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm says the state is encouraging expanded testing.

“We have expanded the testing guidelines,” Palm said.  “We are encouraging providers to test anyone with symptoms, and we do have the testing capacity to allow that to be the case. And also as part of our testing strategy we are surging resources including testing supplies to make sure that we are getting … those kinds of resources that communities need to do the testing that is necessary to understand the prevalence of the disease all around the state.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website, “DHS recommends that people with symptoms of acute respiratory illness like cough, shortness of breath, and others [see list below] should be tested for COVID-19 whenever local resources allow.”

The list of potential COVID-19 symptoms listed by the DHS includes fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, headache, fatigue, body or muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of smell, and loss of taste. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, a person is considered to have a fever with a temperature of 100.4 degrees F or above.

In addition, the state now says that those experiencing “subjective fever, for example if a person feels unusually warm to the touch or reports sensations similar to previous experiences of fever,” should also ask to be tested.

As the state continues to ramp up its testing efforts, the DHS says that currently over 11,000 Wisconsinites can be tested for the virus per day.

Widespread testing represents a key component in reopening the state’s economy, according to medical officials.

Wisconsin’s goal through the Badger Bounce Back Plan, is being able to test everyone who has symptoms of COVID-19, conduct contact tracing, and get those who have been exposed to the virus in quarantine to thwart the spread.

Testing was previously prioritized for hospitalized patients, long-term care facility residents, and healthcare workers who display COVID-19 symptoms.

But as more tests become available, hospitals and health experts now report additional energy is being transmitted to increased testing.

“We’re working with our local healthcare systems to increase our capacity … and making  sure they have the necessary testing materials,” said Libby Jacobs, public information officer for the Sheboygan County Department of Health and Human Services.

Prevea Health, a partner of HSHS St. Nicholas Hospital, said that while testing guidelines have been expanded, it’s currently still relying on telephone or internet screening in order to schedule drive-through tests for people who have symptoms.

“We ask that you call or use our online virtual care because you still need an order a test,” said Dr. Ashok Rai, president and CEO of Prevea. “You still have to go through the process, answer the questions, and a test has to be ordered … We’re not a in a situation where we’re all going to get tested on Saturday. You have to call .. and then we send you to one of the testing sites.”

At that point, Rai said, a nasal swab with a patient’s sample is sent off for analysis at a lab. Results take about two days to receive, Rai said, adding that people with symptoms shouldn’t hesitate to take the initial step in reaching out for screening.

Rai doesn’t anticipate seeing test shortages like the type experienced after the virus’s initial onset.

“Given the fact that (production facilities are) able to ramp up their capacity, I don’t see the supply issue being as big of an issue as it was seven weeks ago,” Raj said.

The Aurora Sheboygan Medical Center provided a written statement in response to questions on testing guideline.

The health provider said patients undergoing emergency or urgent surgeries and treatments will now be tested.

“This is in addition to admitted patients and team member testing conducted through employee health,” the statement said. “To operationalize testing for priority groups in a safe and convenient way, we are introducing and, in some cases, reintroducing drive through testing at many of our sites. These testing sites are only for pre-scheduled tests and will not be available for community testing at this time.”

As states continue to source test supplies for major hospitals, private-practice doctors are also working to establish capabilities to provide the service.

At Plymouth Family Physicians, several patients there have already been tested for the coronavirus. Test results have been sent in to laboratories, and one case returned COVID-19 positive last week, according to Dr. George Schroeder.

Plymouth Family Physicians initially struggled to source enough tests but managed to receive a shipment of about 20 tests last week. Still, Schroeder said residents should turn to larger hospitals for testing if they aren’t already a Plymouth Family Physicians patient.

“We’re not capable of testing the county,” Schroeder said. “The care we provide is offered to the people who have been our patients over the years.”

Like elsewhere in the health care profession, Schroeder said the availability of protective gear like gloves and facemasks – especially for nurses administering the coronavirus tests to patients – is just as crucial to stop the viral spread.

“You have to be protected,” Schroeder said. “Not only do you have to have the (test) kits, but you need to have the protection … It’s not just going to involve more testing.”

If you are experiencing symptoms of the new coronavirus contact your healthcare provider for further instruction.

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