What You Need to Know About The COVID-19 Testing Shortage

Medically reviewed by Dr. Phil Mitchell

scientist with test

If you’re feeling nervous about Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-2019), you’re not alone.  

COVID-19 symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath are commonly associated with other conditions like a cold, COPD and the flu, but naturally people are feeling anxious if symptoms develop. The good news is that more than 80 percent of people that were diagnosed with COVID-19 experienced only mild symptoms. However, because they were not feeling very sick that also means they could have transmitted the virus without even knowing they had it.  

While your first reaction may be to call your doctor to see if you can get tested for the virus, the truth of the matter is that many will not receive one right now. Why, do you ask? 

Well, for starters, there literally aren’t enough tests to go around. While more public health laboratories and commercial labs are obtaining access to COVID-19 diagnostic testing every day, testing supplies are still extremely limited, for several reasons.  

The US testing shortage is partly because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tests first distributed to state labs turned out to be flawed. More than half of the labs received inconclusive results because of an error with one ingredient. And as the US is working to get back on track and ramp up its testing, it now faces shortages of the chemicals that are critical in the process of running the tests.

Because of this, the CDC is recommending that limited resources go towards treating people who: 

  • Have all COVID-19 symptoms, including cough, fever and shortness of breath 
  • Have recently traveled from any area with sustained community transmission of COVID-19 (in the US and other countries) 
  • Are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness, including elderly people and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease 

The CDC states “decisions about testing are at the discretion of state and local health departments and/or individual clinicians.” So, there will, of course, be exceptions and different doctors and hospitals will have different rules. 

Also, though it was recently announced that the US Food and Drug Administration has approved the first rapid point-of-care COVID-19 test that can deliver results in 45 minutes, tests will likely be used in select hospitals and only for the most urgent situations. 

What This Means for Younger & Otherwise Healthy Patients   

What should you do if you’re showing symptoms but you’re an otherwise healthy individual under age 70 and haven’t recently traveled?  

First off, don’t panic. 

The reality is that because you’re young and healthy, and because there’s a global shortage in testing kits, you probably won’t be approved to receive a test. But, the silver lining is that the test wouldn’t change the course of action you need to take. Regardless if it’s the flu, COVID-19 or the common cold, the best thing you can do to keep yourself and others safe is to stay home as much as possible, keep your distance from others, monitor your symptoms, get plenty of fluids, follow other CDC recommendations, and seek medical attention if you develop severe shortness of breath.  

What This Means for Seniors and Those with Chronic Conditions 

If you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, are over the age of 70 or have underlying severe medical conditions, you should seek medical attention. It’s important to know that in addition to a diagnostic testing shortage, many hospitals are also experiencing a shortage in personal protective equipment and supplies, such as gloves and masks. So before heading to the hospital, call your healthcare provider and get their guidance on what steps to take.

In-Home Care for Other Illnesses and Injuries 

If you or a loved one have an illness or injury unrelated to COVID-19, but don’t want to risk exposure to coronavirus by leaving the house, you can get care delivered to your doorstep with DispatchHealth.   

Our medical teams treat common to complex illnesses and injuries so you can avoid crowded healthcare settings. Whether it’s a fall, laceration or UTI — we can care for you at home during this stressful time to help keep you safe and provide peace of mind.  

Download our app today or request care online. 

Learn more about how DispatchHealth is responding to COVID-19 here. 

 

Note: As COVID-19 information is evolving, we’re committed to providing timely updates.
Visit dispatchhealth.com/covid-19 for the most up-to-date information. 

Sources

DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.  

Sources referenced in this article: 

  1. https://www.businessinsider.com/what-coronavirus-mild-symptoms-are-fever-2020-3 
  2. https://www.businessinsider.com.au/coronavirus-testing-may-be-limited-by-shortage-of-materials-2020-3 
  3. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/03/21/819629909/fda-approves-first-rapid-covid-19-test 
  4. https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/21/coronavirus-test-returns-results-in-45-minutes/ 
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html 
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