Virus tests expanding, but limits remain The Chandler Arizonan

Virus tests expanding, but limits remain

Virus tests expanding, but limits remain
City News
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Arizonian News Staff

Chandler residents may find it a little easier to get a COVID-19 test after the state began a three-Saturday blitz yesterday aimed at collecting samples from at least 60,000 Arizonans so officials can better determine how many people in the state are infected.

But the tests still aren’t available to anyone who wants one.

Gov. Doug Ducey last week announced that the state is working with Banner Health to provide testing in Mesa and Gilbert and at some facilities in Phoenix and West Valley – including the State Fairgrounds.

But like Walgreens, which also began offering COVID-19 tests, Banner Health is prioritizing categories of people eligible for tests and is requiring an initial screening over the phone before it will schedule anyone for a test. Walgreens’ drive-through testing requires a pre-screening online at walgreens.com.

State health officials are reaching out to other providers to offer tests.

Banner is charging $75 for testing those without insurance, but said it will not be collecting fees at sites and will not deny a test to someone who can’t afford it. Walgreens’ test is free for those who meet the criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Luckily, we know there is additional capacity at our laboratories across the state to test more Arizonans,” state Health Director Cara Christ said in a blog last week. “Laboratories like Sonora Quest, Arizona State University and Mayo Clinic have indicated they have the ability to run more tests… However, up until now, the limited supply of personal protective equipment and test collection supplies, such as nasal swabs and viral transport media, has been a significant barrier to increased testing.

“Arizona is not alone; there continues to be a national shortage of those supplies. The good news is that our partners have indicated they are now able to obtain the supplies needed to perform additional testing because the supply chain is opening up,” Christ said.

The tests are largely limited “to anyone who thinks they have been exposed to and could be infected with COVID-19,” Christ stressed. “Previously, this order was limited to high-risk individuals and those with specific symptoms.”

The CDC gives top priority for test eligibility to healthcare workers and hospitalized patients with symptoms.

The second level of eligibility includes first responders and people over 65 with symptoms while the third priority level includes “critical infrastructure workers” and others with symptoms as well as first responders with no symptoms.

The last category of eligibility are people with no symptoms – and they likely won’t be able to get a test at this time.

Christ said she told labs statewide “to remove any restrictions on testing if they have adequate testing supplies and PPE” and that the state distributed 15 rapid testing machines throughout Arizona to provide results within 15 minutes.

The COVID-19 tests are different from blood testing for antibodies. Other facilities are offering those tests, but Christ said, “It is unknown if a positive serologic test for COVID-19 means that someone is immune to COVID-19 or how long that immunity might last.”

As for COVID-19 tests, Christ said Arizonans who believe they have been exposed can now get tested.

But be prepared to stay home, at least while you’re waiting for the results if not longer. Banner said it takes up to five days to get results.

The new order is a major shift from what had been the state’s policy of reserving tests for those who either had a doctor’s order or had specific symptoms.

But it still doesn’t rise to the level of “anyone who wants a test can get a test”

There are strings attached for those who are eligible based on suspected exposure.

First, those seeking tests under her new order will first have to sign a “voluntary isolation agreement’’ to not go anywhere until the results come back.

If the results are negative, no problem. But if there is a positive result, then it gets more complicated.

A spokeswoman for the health department said that means no travel anywhere until there has been no fever for at least 72 hours without any medicine that reduces fever and that other symptoms – such as coughing and shortness of breath – have improved.

Even if the symptoms are gone, the person who got the positive test result still cannot go out until at least seven days have passed since the specimen was collected.

Christ acknowledged the importance of knowing who has the virus and can spread it.

“We know that rapidly identifying cases, case follow up, and contact tracing will help slow the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities,’’ she said. “Success in these areas requires an increase in our testing capacity.’’

More than 67,000 Arizonans have been infected – but less than 1 percent of the total population has been tested. Only Virginia has had a lower testing rate, according to the Pew Foundation.

Sites where testing is being offered by Banner in the East Valley are at 965 E. Germann Road, Gilbert, and 525 W. Brown Road, Mesa. Walgreens had not listed its Arizona test sites as of Thursday, but additional information will be posted at its website.

“Banner’s drive-thru sites will not accept walk-ins,” the provider advised. “Everyone must be phone screened in advance and scheduled for an appointment. Those who arrive without an appointment will be asked to leave and call in to complete the phone screening process.”

More information on Banner’s test:     bannerhealth.com/patients/patient-resources/covid-19/testing.

To be screened for eligibility for a Banner test: 1-844-549-1851.

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

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