Health officials in New York, California and other hard-hit parts of the country have started restricting coronavirus testing to health care workers and the severely ill, saying the battle to contain the virus is lost and the country is moving into a new phase of the pandemic response.
As cases spike sharply in those places, they are bracing for an onslaught and directing scarce resources where they are needed most to save people’s lives. Instead of encouraging broad testing of the public, they’re focused on conserving masks, ventilators and intensive care beds — and on getting still-limited tests to health-care workers and the most vulnerable. The shift is further evidence that rising levels of infection and illness have begun to overwhelm the health care system.
A similar message was hammered Saturday by members of the White House coronavirus task force, who said it was urgent to conserve scarce supplies and offered guidelines about who should get tested. Top priority, they said, should go to those who are hospitalized, along with health-care workers, symptomatic residents of long-term care facilities and people over 65 — especially those with heart and lung disease, which place them at higher risk.
We should be rushing to convert unused convention centers and hotels to make-shift hotels as fast as possible, while masks; gowns; test-kits and medications need to be supplied a rate never achieved before. The faster we get our Health Care System ahead of the curve the more people will survive. The containment fight has been lost.
Millions more tests are now available. And the Food & Drug Administration on Friday approved the first coronavirus test that can deliver results in 45 minutes. The turnaround time is far faster than for current tests, which are typically sent to centralized labs and can take days to return results.
The FDA granted “emergency use authorization” to Cepheid, a California company that makes a rapid molecular test, for use in “patient care settings,” but the company and the FDA said initially it will be used in hospitals, emergency rooms and urgent care centers.
This test should be licensed and produced across the country, by all available production facilities. This fight is about getting our healthcare system ahead of the curve.
Health officials remain concerned that testing sites will be inundated and that the president’s previous assertions that anyone who wanted a test “could have one” will lead many with mild cases to squander finite resources.
Americas health system is now functioning like that of a developing country, where we only recommend testing if it changes how you manage the care of an individual person. This must change.
Doctors need to start using President Trump’s Right-to-try laws, allowing terminally ill patients access to experimental therapies (drugs, biologics, devices) that have completed Phase I testing but have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).