health

How Can I Get Tested? And Other Coronavirus Questions…

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio speak about coronavirus Midtown news conference, March 2, 2020.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio speak about coronavirus Midtown news conference, March 2, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Amid states of emergency that have placed sharp restrictions on public gatherings, top state and city officials are scrambling to up the number of coronavirus tests performed daily in New York.

In the meantime, here are authorities’ latest answers to questions you might have about testing and other medical issues related to the local response to a global pandemic.

I think I might have coronavirus. Now what?

If you have a fever, cough or experience trouble breathing, call your primary care provider to discuss your symptoms, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said Thursday. If you need to go to the emergency room, call the hospital ahead of time, let them know you’re on the way and whether you have an underlying health condition, he advised.

In most cases, people with coronavirus will “self resolve”— meaning you’ll experience cold or flu-like symptoms for a few days and will get better. If you’re feeling sick, stay home. The city Health Department recommends you do so until at least 72 hours after your symptoms resolve.

If I visit my doctor or the emergency room, will I get tested?

Not necessarily. Health care providers are required to prioritize whom they can test based on city, state and federal guidelines.

Those with a fever, cough or shortness of breath and who came into close contact with someone with a confirmed case of coronavirus are on the priority list. Ditto for people who have potential symptoms and recently visited certain countries — like China, Italy, Japan, South Korea or Iran.

Other considerations include the person’s age, and whether they have serious underlying health conditions. Doctors also look for evidence of fever and acute respiratory illness that requires hospitalization and defies other diagnoses.

Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio say they want more people tested. So why can’t I get tested?

There’s a limit to how many people can be tested each day because there are only a few labs in New York that can run the samples collected from people.

And the numbers can be a bit confusing: In most cases, each person has to be swabbed twice and those samples have to each be tested.

So when the Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the daily testing capacity in New York would increase to 6,000 by this week, that means roughly 3,000 people would be tested each day in the labs that are currently online or will soon be testing, administration officials explained. Other health care providers contract with private labs that run their own tests.

On Monday, Cuomo anticipated that the daily testing capacity would rise to 7,000 later this week.

As of Monday morning, New York had tested 7,026 people since coronavirus was detected in the state on March 1, the governor announced.

I’ve heard there’s a shortage of tests. Is that true?

There is an “abundance of testing kits,” Cuomo said Thursday, referring to the swabs used to test people. But the issue is the number of labs that can perform the tests.

State and city officials want the number of tests to grow exponentially, so they’ve asked the federal government to approve an automated system that allows for thousands of tests an hour.

“We need to increase testing as quickly as possible and get the volume as high as possible. The more people you test, the more people you can isolate,” Cuomo said.

The state has authorized an additional 28 labs in New York to do testing. But the labs are awaiting federal approval before getting to work.

Every time I see the news, it seems the number of infections is getting higher. Should I be worried?

Not necessarily. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday he expects there to be 1,000 positive coronavirus cases in New York City by next week.

But that’s a function of more labs doing testing. The quicker people with coronavirus are identified, the faster those folks can be isolated to prevent further spread of the virus.

That said, if you’re over 50 and/or have health conditions that make you more vulnerable to the impact of coronavirus, you should take precautions, such as avoiding large gatherings.

What if there aren’t enough hospital beds to treat people?

Dr. Mitchell Katz, head of the city’s public hospitals system, points to a number of options available for increasing bed availability. This includes postponing elective surgeries, which can take up to one-third of a hospital’s capacity, and assembling intensive care units in parking lots or cafeterias.

Katz also noted that roughly 80% of coronavirus infections don’t require hospital care. Of the city’s 95 cases logged as of Thursday, 22 people were hospitalized. Statewide, 47 people were hospitalized out of 328 cases.

“Certainly, for the foreseeable future, we’ll be fine,” Katz said Thursday.

The state is coordinating with upstate hospitals to absorb New York City-area patients in a “worst-case scenario,” should hospitals downstate hit capacity, Cuomo said.

What if doctors and nurses get sick?

The state Department of Health is asking former doctors and nurses to reconnect with their old employers to create a “reserve workforce” in case of emergencies, and will accelerate recertification.

Things are closing and Big gatherings are banned. Why shouldn’t I panic?

First of all, you should never panic. But there’s a growing consensus that the best way to reduce the transmission of coronavirus is to limit occasions that put large numbers of people in close contact — such as concerts, parades or bars. On Thursday, Cuomo and de Blasio announced a temporary ban on events with more than 500 people, and the temporary shuttering of Broadway. Venues with fewer than 500 people will have to function at half-capacity — including bars and restaurants.

But while some state school districts have announced temporary closures, de Blasio says he intends to keep New York City’s public schools, transit system and health care system operating as close to normal as possible.

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