• March 31, 2020

Virus test difficult to find in Cape, Atlantic counties - Ocean City Sentinel: News

Virus test difficult to find in Cape, Atlantic counties

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Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2020 5:00 pm

Coronavirus testing kits were scarce to nonexistent last week in Atlantic and Cape May counties. Those with symptoms of fever and cough could be seen by physicians and tested for flu but not diagnosed with coronavirus.

County Health Department Public Health Coordinator Kevin Thomas said March 13 that persons needed a certain profile to get tested. 

“They have to call their own doctor first,” he said.

If the doctor recommends a COVID-19 test, the person should call Cape Regional Medical Center, according to Thomas.

At a March 13 news conference with Gov. Phil Murphy, state Department of Health Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli quoted Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease: “Those who need testing not only should, but must get tested. Those who want testing, should get it when wide-scale testing is available.”

“We’re not prepared as a nation or a state to do mass testing at this moment but we certainly are making preparations,” Persichilli said.

She said two commercial labs were online as well as two hospital labs.

Murphy said the state was exploring any and all avenues to dramatically expand access to testing. He said he believed by the end of this week, “the testing reality in the state is going to be in a very meaningfully, incrementally different place than it is today.”

Persichilli said testing did not change the treatment since there is no specific vaccine at this point with all treatment geared toward symptomatic relief. 

The Sentinel asked the state Department of Health on March 13 why coronavirus test kits were not available in the county.

Their emailed reply: “The New Jersey State Public Health and Environmental Labs has received enough test kits to test approximately 400 persons under investigations. We have ordered additional kits and are awaiting their arrival from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control.) Private labs are also conducting testing. In addition, Hackensack Meridian Health System also received approval from the NJ Department of Health to test.”

The state Department of Health also emailed a press release from Hackensack Meridian Health stating it was pleased to announce that the Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI) has created a test to dramatically reduce the time it takes for diagnosing COVID-19. 

“The new diagnostic tool will reduce the current process of testing for COVID-19 from days to hours. The test permits the network to quarantine and treat patients suspected of having COVID-19 more rapidly or in the case of a negative result, spare the patient unnecessary time in the hospital. The Center for Discovery and Innovation received preliminary emergency use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to start using the test today. Additionally, the state Department of Health has also approved the test.”

“As more hospital and commercial laboratories begin testing, New Jersey residents will have greater access to SARS-COV-2 diagnostic testing and public health officials will have a greater ability to monitor, track and respond to new cases,” stated said Chris Neuwirth, assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health.

The CDI test combines elements of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) diagnostic, and a test developed in Germany and adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO). CDI experts began work on the test in mid-January, following the outbreak of the virus first identified in China in December 2019.

Last week, the center received live virus and viral RNA, a crucial step toward bringing the test to use in clinical settings, said Dr. David S. Perlin, a global infectious-diseases expert who helped develop diagnostics for SARS and other infectious diseases. The CDI validated the results and completed FDA requirements to administer the test. Initially, the network will be able to test 24 patients every eight hours. Our goal is to capitalize on the technology and find ways to expand its use in the region.

When asked the availability of coronavirus tests, Shore Medical Center issued a statement.

“COVID-19 testing is being tightly managed by New Jersey Department of Health. This is a fluid situation and a few commercial labs are and others will likely be offering testing of submitted samples. Shore is following the New Jersey Department of Health and CDC recommendations closely to assist in guiding patients with testing questions. Shore Medical Center is not a specimen-collection site. Community members can call (800) 222-1222 for testing questions and progress on availability of testing.

“Patients with symptoms that would ordinarily lead them to call 911 or seek emergency evaluation should. If symptoms are mild then patients are encouraged to stay home and they may contact their primary provider for guidance. Shore Physician Group’s primary offices are not offering testing at this time either nor collecting samples. Also, symptoms that bring patients to the emergency room will be taken care of and other common respiratory illnesses like the flu, bacterial and noninfectious causes will be ruled out first.”

AtlantiCare urged the community to call before seeking care for symptoms of flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

“AtlantiCare has seen a marked increase in the number of “worried-well” patients seeking care in its urgent care centers and emergency departments. It continues to urge members of the community to call their primary care provider or pediatrician before seeking care in any medical setting for themselves or children for symptoms of flu, flu-like illnesses, coronaviruses and other respiratory illnesses.”

“It is critically important that as members of the community, we all follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New Jersey Department of Health for preventing spread of coronavirus,” said Manish Trivedi, M.D., director of the division of infectious diseases at AtlantiCare. “Your health care provider can give you direction about whether to seek care in a medical setting or to stay home to have supportive care.”

“Having the right care in the right setting — which could include not going to a health care facility — will help to protect yourself, other patients, and healthcare providers,” Trivedi said. “Taking this precaution and following all precautions for preventing the spread of coronavirus and other illnesses will also ensure health care workers are available to provide timely, direct care for ill patients.”

As of March 13, AtlantiCare was not testing patients in a widespread manner for coronavirus.

“We follow NJDOH testing criteria,” Trivedi said. “This includes only testing patients who have had close contact with a person who was diagnosed as having COVID-19 and those who are ill enough to be hospitalized and for whom other sources of respiratory illness have been ruled out.”

While testing was largely unavailable in Cape May County, 536 people were tested on March 13 at drive up site at no cost at the Wilmington riverfront by ChristianaCare, the state’s largest hospital system. Testing started at 10 a.m. and ran through 2 p.m., according to WHYY.

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