COVID-19 FAQs: Who gets tested?

U.S. currently can't test "anyone we want," says Sanford Health VP

Hundreds of test tubes hold COVID-19 tests underway at Sanford laboratory

Members of the public are getting the message: Call your doctor or clinic if you think you have the novel coronavirus.

It’s important to call ahead if you have symptoms of COVID-19. You might be told to recover at home so you don’t make other people sick.

Now Sanford Health clinics are getting calls from people with colds or other respiratory illnesses asking for a doctor’s note and a negative COVID-19 test before they can return to work.

“I’m sure it’s out of concern in the community,” said Dr. Mike Wilde, vice president and medical officer at Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. But he would like to clear up some things.

COVID-19 testing requirements

First, COVID-19 tests are not available to anyone who wants one. Not yet, anyway.

“There are not many tests available in the U.S., and we need to reserve those for the most ill patients,” Dr. Wilde said.

To be tested, patients must meet high risk criteria and have a physician order. High risk criteria as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are:

  • Active lower respiratory symptoms — fever, chills, cough or sore throat, or
  • New symptoms of difficulty breathing, muscle pain, loss of taste or smell, or
  • Exposure to anyone with a lab-confirmed COVID-19 test

Sanford Health also prioritizes hospitalized patients with COVID-19 symptoms, older adults, and people of any age with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk.

Learn more: Coronavirus testing at Sanford Health

Sanford Health has launched a test for the COVID-19 virus using an FDA-approved method under Emergency Use Authorization. Tests will be available at Sanford clinics and medical centers, and processed at the Sanford laboratory in Sioux Falls. Patients will receive results in 24-48 hours.

Rapid COVID-19 tests, ready in 45-90 minutes, also are available for the highest priority patients.

A note about doctors’ notes

Now, about that doctor’s note. Because of patient privacy laws, it can only contain certain information, Dr. Wilde said.

“We can’t tell an employer what a test result was,” he said.

As a result, clinics cannot provide return-to-work notes regarding COVID-19. Instead of requiring tests and notes, Dr. Wilde asks that employers follow CDC guidance on what to do when you’re sick and when to stop home isolation.

“If an employee is ill, have them stay home,” Dr. Wilde said. “It comes down to having symptoms and having the person self-isolate. (If you’re sick) don’t come into work, don’t go out in public, stay away from family members, especially those who are vulnerable, and practicing good hygiene.”

This story was originally published March 18, 2020. It was updated to reflect new CDC guidelines May 14, 2020.

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Posted In Coronavirus, Frequently Asked Questions, Workplace Health

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