LVHN doctor says COVID testing is much more accessible now than in spring

Written by on November 19, 2020

LVHN doctor says COVID testing is much more accessible now than in spring

By Genesis Ortega

November 19, 2020

A worker verifies a coronavirus drive-thru testing appointment at a Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program (VEIP) station in Curtis Bay, Md., Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Maryland opened three drive-thru testing sites for residents who are symptomatic or at high risk of complications from COVID-19. The tests are offered at three vehicle emissions testing sites in Anne Arundel, Charles and Harford counties. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Coronavirus is hitting its highest numbers this month — more so than in the spring. And while there are record numbers of cases in Pennsylvania, access to testing looks much different today. 

WLVR’s Community Correspondent Genesis Ortega spoke with Dr. Marcelo Gareca from Lehigh Valley Health Network for a glimpse into what testing looks like now eight months into the pandemic. 

Listen to the interview.


Genesis Ortega: Let’s start with this, let’s start with the basics: If someone thinks they’ve been exposed, what should they do?

Marcelo Gareca: Okay, the first thing that you have if you’re exposed, you need to isolate yourself. In the Valley, there are many places you can call, of course if you have a primary care doctor, call your primary care doctor first. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, there are different places you can call, different hotlines, even the Health Bureau of Lehigh Valley has one, and I know St. Luke’s has one. So the whole idea would be to evaluate what kind of exposure that you had.

GO: How many days after you’ve been possibly exposed should you get tested? What’s the ideal time?

MG: We believe that the person is shedding the virus, or it’s contagious, two days before [you] start developing symptoms; so that’s for the person that is shedding. So I start shedding, my exposure goes two days back. Now I went for dinner with you, you tell me tomorrow, “Hey, I just got my test — it’s positive, now I’m having symptoms.” I probably should wait maybe 4 days, 3-4. You don’t want to go too early. The problem with the false negative test is that you’re gonna say, “Oh I don’t have it,” and perhaps not be as careful. The recommendation is that if you’ve had good exposure, like going out for dinner last night, even if my test is negative, I still should do the isolation because the exposure was so good.

GO: What happens if you’re feeling sick but you don’t have any known exposure?

MG: It definitely deserves a phone call to somebody. Remember only a small percentage of people is going to have symptoms. I think if you are feeling sick — and let’s define what is ‘feeling sick.’ Are you having a runny nose? It may just be seasonal allergies, you know, you get a cold every fall. Now let’s say you lost your taste; well that’s different. If you lost your smell, that’s also something that we see. Now you’ve lost your smell, you’ve lost your taste, you’re coughing and you’re having a fever; now that’s different. So even if you don’t think you were exposed, there might have been an exposure you were not aware of.

GO: What does access to testing look like now that we’re eight months into the pandemic?

MG: We’re doing a lot better, okay? In March, April, [it] was very hard. We had to do targeted testing, so it was very complicated. So we’re in a much better spot. Unfortunately, we’re seeing so many patients and so many people getting tests, but let’s remember now people need tests to travel, people need tests to go back to work — so very high demand. I only can speak for Lehigh Valley. We were a little bit busy up to like a week, 10 days ago; we were getting tests back really quick, a day or two the test are back. They’re getting more into the three days plus, which we don’t like. To answer your question, we’re okay, we’re not where we would like to be, and that is for the PCR test. Now there are other forms of testing. The PCR’s the one that, you know, they swab your nose, they count to 10…that’s the PCR. We’re look at particles of the virus there. There is the antibody test. That we’re doing pretty good and the results come back rather quickly.

GO: Doctor, when should people quarantine? There was a lot of emphasis in the spring at the start of the pandemic on self-isolation versus quarantining; is that still the same?

MG: So I think right now, if not very soon, if you have a high risk factor — namely you’re over 65, you’re overweight, you’re hypertensive, you’re diabetic, you have heart disease, you have kidney disease, you have lung disease — you should start thinking about self-isolation, like, you know, try to spend the least amount of time as possible outside. I think we are hitting where we were in the spring. So that’s self-isolation. Now let’s say the question you asked me early, let’s say you were exposed, and now you need 14 days of isolation. Let’s say now you are positive, now you need to do the isolation because you are the transmitter. So if you are positive, what we’re requiring is a minimum of ten days of isolation, and the last three days with no symptoms. But that’s the difference between a self-isolation, because it’s time for me to not get exposed, versus I’m in quarantine because I was exposed or because I’m sick.

GO: Again, as we’re seeing resurgence of COVID cases overall, do you have to have symptoms to get a test?

MG: No, you could’ve been exposed as we discussed before, you can be traveling. Some places are requiring this. So there are other reasons that you need to be tested. But we don’t have to be afraid.

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