Different doctors make different calls on coronavirus tests

Different doctors make different calls on coronavirus tests

From the Complete coverage: What Idahoans need to know about the coronavirus series
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Idaho health officials report 1st coronavirus case in state

Idaho Gov. Brad Little proclaims a state of emergency in Idaho as a proactive step to prevent the spread of coronavirus on March 13 at his Statehouse office in Boise.

BOISE — Idaho health officials say people who think they need to be tested for coronavirus should talk to their doctors. But whether someone meets the criteria for the test could depend on which doctor they visit, with some health care centers using strict guidelines and others evaluating each patient on an individual basis.

That has frustrations mounting for Idaho residents, who say time, money and vague instructions are putting too many roadblocks in the way of those seeking tests.

“If somebody is symptomatic and feels like they should be tested, they should talk to their healthcare provider about that,” said Niki Forbing-Orr, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. “People are really, really in tune to this, and everybody is super skeptical with whatever they’re told. A decision about testing for anything really has to come from a health care provider.”

In the first weeks of the outbreak, the state labs were only running tests if the patient’s test was authorized by one of the state’s public health agencies. Those agencies only approved tests for people who met the CDC criteria of having traveled or been in close contact with a person who traveled to a country with known coronavirus spread as well as showing specific symptoms of COVID-19.

The state’s policy changed a few days ago, said Forbing-Orr, and now tests can be run without prior authorization from one of Idaho’s public health entities. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is simply urging physicians to use their best judgment when deciding who to test. The number of tests are limited, and so health care providers are trying to ensure they have enough for the sickest and highest-risk patients.

On Monday morning, about 270 people had been tested for COVID-19 statewide, and only five people were confirmed to have the illness caused by the coronavirus. Of those five patients, four have had only mild illness and may not have met the CDC’s testing criteria.

But several medical facilities are still using the CDC guidelines. In smaller offices, different doctors are taking different approaches.

Erin Malone’s mother, a 73-year-old Meridian woman, has been sick since late February. But Malone’s doctor with St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center told her she wouldn’t be given a COVID-19 test unless she is hospitalized, Erin Malone said, even though her mother has other pre-existing health conditions that put her at greater risk of complications.

“She’s not ill enough to be hospitalized. But I’m quite worried that she can’t get the test, given that she’s high risk,” Malone said.

Susan Veltman, a Boise attorney, went to Capital City Medicine for a test when she developed a fever and cough after traveling to California and Nevada. Physicians there initially declined to test her, saying they only had 30 tests for the season and her symptoms could be explained by another illness. But they called her back over the weekend after reviewing their availability of test kids.

“They called me back and asked me to come get tested, so just did,” Veltman said in a text message Sunday. “Results in 2-4 days.”

Mark Snider, a spokesman for St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, said the hospital is following the CDC criteria on whether to administer tests for COVID-19. Those guidelines include if someone recently traveled to a foreign country with widespread coronavirus cases, if they were recently exposed to someone known to have COVID-19, if they are hospitalized with symptoms of COVID-19 or if they are symptomatic and have chronic medical conditions that put them at particularly high risk of poor outcomes.

Meanwhile, the Legislature’s powerful budget committee on Monday unanimously approved $1.3 million requested by Idaho Gov. Brad Little intended to shield state workers from the new coronavirus and keep Idaho’s government operating. The money includes $800,000 for equipment and bandwidth so employees can work from home, and $500,000 for sick and administrative leave.

The committee previously approved $2 million for virus testing and medical supplies, and the state is expecting another $4.5 million in virus-related funding from the federal government.

Alex Adams, Little’s budget chief, said that combined $7.8 million was a pretty good start in fighting the virus, but the situation was rapidly evolving.

“I think it’s premature to speculate what our final needs might be,” he said.

Dozens of schools across the state have closed in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. More than 80,000 people in China have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. More than 65,000 have recovered.

Complete coverage: What Idahoans need to know about the coronavirus

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