‘Tests Remain Limited’ – Getting Sampled for COVID-19 in Columbia County

UPDATE: Shortly after this article was posted, Columbia County Public Health Educator Victoria McGahan informed TOHV the county also began receiving results from private labs starting Monday.

As 179 new infections were reported in the Hudson Valley over the last 24 hours and test kits remained limited, The Other Hudson Valley spoke to a Columbia County woman who was tested for the coronavirus.

The test came back negative after three days.

The woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her privacy, is in her 40s and healthy.

She became concerned after returning from abroad through a series of international airports and felt tired and congested.

She did not believe she had COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but works with a population vulnerable to the disease.

Though anyone can get COVID-19, its effects are far more severe on the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, such as those suffering from AIDS, cancer or diabetes.

“I didn’t think that I had the virus, but it did make me want to contact my workplace…I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t violating any protocols that had put in place my employer,” she said.

Her boss asked her to be cleared by her doctor, the woman said.

The woman made an appointment with her physician. When they met on Tuesday, the physician told her there was no way to diagnose the disease at the office, and there was no testing available.

“Her advice was to stay at home until all symptoms were resolved,” the woman said.

At first, there was only a single lab in the U.S. that could test for the coronavirus: the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, which developed diagnostic tests they first used to confirm the virus in a patient Jan. 21.

The CDC sent out enough test kits to state labs Feb. 7 to test 50,000 people, according to The New Yorker, but the majority of the tests in this batch did not work, leading to significant delays. Private labs were eager to make tests and test patients throughout February, according to The Atlantic, but were not permitted to until Feb. 29 because of FDA regulations.

When asked in an email if tests were available March 9, the day the Columbia County woman was at her physicians, Columbia County Public Health Educator Victoria McGahan did not directly respond, writing that samples were currently being taken at Columbia Memorial Health (CMH) in Hudson and its satellite facilities in Copake and Valatie.

Though the woman started to feel better over the next week, she was hesitant to return to work, fearing she might have the disease and not be displaying symptoms.

Some people who have the virus do not show symptoms – are “asymptomatic” – but recent research suggests they can still spread the disease.

A team of researchers from the United States, France, China and Hong Kong studied the spread of the coronavirus in China and found 10 percent of infections were transmitted by people who did not feel sick.

Another study – which has not yet been peer reviewed – studied coronavirus clusters in Singapore and Tianjin, China. The study suggested the rate of new infections caused by people without symptoms was far higher – 48 percent and up.

The woman’s physician told her later in the week testing was available and she could give a sample on Friday.

She was told beforehand not to exit her car when arriving at the facility taking the sample – the CMH Rapid Care Center in Valatie.

Two people came out of the clinic when she arrived, including a healthcare worker in a full biohazard suit with air piped in from an oxygen tank, she said.

The healthcare worker asked her a series of questions about her travel history and whether she experienced fever or shortness of breath, the woman said.

“She said because I didn’t have shortness of breath or fever, she said she didn’t think she could give me the test, and I said that my doctor had arraigned it somehow,” according to the woman.

County Health Educator McGahan would not say how many samples taken from Columbia County residents could be tested a day as of Wednesday but wrote that “testing criteria is strict.”

“We don’t have the capacity to test everyone unless they have suspected exposure or appropriate symptoms as tests remain limited,” she wrote. “Symptoms for testing include the following: fever, cough, shortness of breath.”

Tests take 24-72 hours to come back, McGahan added, but it could take longer if the sampling facility or the testing facility was stretched thin. Samples from the county are currently tested at the state Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany. The county also began receiving results from private labs Monday.

At the clinic in Valatie, the healthcare workers took a sample after a short while by inserting cotton swabs into the woman’s nostril.

The healthcare worker then told the woman she should self-isolate until the test results came back.

The woman did just that. On Monday, three days after the sample was taken, she needed to leave to get groceries and called the clinic to see if they had her results.

The facility told her they just received her results, which were negative.

Since many cases of the coronavirus are asymptomatic, only testing the cases that display symptoms misses many of the infections. These asymptomatic cases can pass the virus to someone who suffers severe symptoms.

The CDC created a model presented last month estimating more than 150 million Americans could be infected by the coronavirus and between 200,000 and 1.7 million could die if no action was taken. New York started taking actions about a week ago. To see why you should do more right now, read this.

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