Coronavirus cases, testing capacity expected to increase

High-risk patients prioritized
Posted at 5:21 PM, Mar 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 21:40:54-04

CLEVELAND — With more than a dozen confirmed cases of coronavirus in Ohio, the state expects the number of cases to rise as more testing is completed.

As of Friday, the Cleveland Clinic launched on-site testing, which it said would speed up the process compared to sending samples to a laboratory. Rather than receiving results in a couple of days, the Clinic said it would allow results in eight to 12 hours.

At a press conference on Friday, Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, reminded people that they must have a doctor's order to be tested for COVID-19.

"Health departments don’t do testing," Acton said. "You really need to talk to a doctor. Preferably at this point call them and they’ll talk through this with you."

Acton said drive-through testing would soon be available at hospitals.

In a statement Friday, Dr. William Brien, chief medical officer for University Hospitals, wrote, "University Hospitals is actively working with state and local officials on drive thru testing. The county department of health in coordination with several hospital systems including University Hospitals are supporting this plan. We agreed collectively, working together, will provide the best opportunity for the screening and testing of our community. University Hospitals continues to provide screening, evaluation, testing and care for our patients in our hospitals."

RELATED: Drive-thru testing for coronavirus to start Saturday in Cleveland

Deciding who gets tested is based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by looking at symptoms, travel and exposure.

"There’s CDC guidance on assuring, with the testing capacity we have today, that those that should be tested based on their risk are tested first, and that makes sense," said Terry Allan, health commissioner of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, in a press conference Friday morning.

At-risk patients include the elderly and people with compromised immunity. Allan urged people who don't feel well but aren't high-risk to consider telehealth or calling their doctor's offices.

In the meantime, the Cleveland Clinic's on-site testing currently has the capacity to run 500 samples per day, according to Steven Gordon, MD, chairman of infectious disease at the Clinic, who spoke at a press conference Thursday. He anticipated the number of tests the Clinic could run daily would double by next week.

"That’s 1,000 samples or 500 samples," Gordon said. "Some patients may have multiple samples being tested, but we will try to maximize how many, how we can run our testing so that we are the most efficient possibly."

For now, limited testing capacity is focused only on those who are very ill. That's because most COVID-19 cases are mild, and only a small percentage of patients will require hospitalization. The vast majority will be able to recover at home.

If you have symptoms like fever and a dry cough and meet CDC screening criteria, doctors at the Clinic said you'll first be tested for influenza and RSV.

"Only if that test is negative, meaning if people do not have influenza but have clinical symptoms that are concerning, would they be tested for the coronavirus," said Tom Mihaljevic, MD, CEO and president at the Cleveland Clinic.

The Cleveland Clinic said it would test patients who meet the CDC criteria regardless of their ability to pay, with no copays, even if they don't have insurance. The test will go through insurers for those who are insured.

For now, hospitals and public health officials have said it's critical to slow down the spread of coronavirus. The Cleveland Clinic has tents outside its emergency departments so patients can be screened and questioned before coming inside.