Some hard-hit areas restrict testing as coronavirus death toll grows in the US

APTOPIX Virus Outbreak California
Posted at 11:32 AM, Mar 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-22 13:32:51-04

As the coronavirus pandemic grows and more states urge residents to stay home, officials are making a tough choice to only test high-risk patients and those who are severely ill.

Officials in hard-hit places like New York and California are warning that panicked people are flooding hospitals for tests and health care facilities will run out of crucial items. The focus has shifted to avoiding broad testing to conserve rapidly dwindling resources such as masks, ventilators and intensive care beds.

Authorities have recommended health care providers avoid testing patients except in cases in which results would significantly change the course of treatment.

New York City health officials issued guidance asking medical facilities to stop testing non-hospitalized patients in an effort to preserve medical supplies.

"At this point in the pandemic, demand for unnecessary testing is contributing to the rapidly diminishing supply of PPE (personal protective equipment) ... ," the guidance read. "Testing may play a more significant role after the pandemic has peaked."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said testing should prioritize hospitalized patients, people with compromised immune systems, health care workers, seniors and other high-risk patients.

At a new drive-up testing facility in Miami, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said healthcare workers and first responders would receive priority testing. Anyone ages 65 and over will also be tested, he said.

"Not every single person in the US needs to get tested," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "When you go in and get tested, you are consuming personal protective equipment, masks and gowns -- those are high priority for the health care workers who are taking care of people who have coronavirus disease."

The number of coronavirus deaths has surged to 371 in the United States as the virus tightens its grip, leading to fears of a widespread shortage of medical supplies.

Millions under restriction

As the number of confirmed cases surpassed 29,000 nationwide and concerns over testing grow, states are ramping up efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

Millions of people in five states spent their first full weekend at home under new orders by their governors. California, New York, Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey have urged nonessential workers to stay home in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus and reduce stress on the health care system.

The most recent state to enact such a measure was New Jersey, where Gov. Phil Murphy announced a statewide order closing nonessential retail businesses and asking residents to stay home until further notice. The order went into effect at 9 p.m. ET Saturday.

"We know the virus spreads through person-to person contact," the governor said. "The best way to prevent further exposure is to limit our public interactions to only the most essential purposes."

Each state provides for certain exceptions, such as visiting grocery stories, pharmacies or healthcare facilities, among others.

"Every state will head this way," CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem said. "People need to prepare themselves that this gets harder before this gets easier."

Officials press younger people to heed warnings

California Gov. Newsom urged younger residents to avoid visiting beaches as Californians adjusted to their new normal. "(It's) time to recognize it's not only about the old folks, it's about your impact in their lives. Don't be selfish," he said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly urged younger people to comply with social distancing. Of the more than 15,000 confirmed cases in New York state, 53% are people between ages 18 and 49, he said.

The issue is particularly bad in New York City, where the governor was on Saturday.

"You would think there was nothing going on in parts of New York City," he said in a news conference Sunday. "You would think it was just a bright, sunny Saturday."

"This is just a mistake," he added. "It's insensitive, it's arrogant, it's self-destructive, it's disrespectful to other people and it has to stop and it has to stop now."

Cuomo said he asked the city to develop a plan within 24 hours to "correct this situation."

Cases climb as more people are tested

Numbers have soared as testing became more available, with at least 29,235 confirmed cases as of midday Sunday

More than 195,000 Americans have been tested, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters Saturday. That total does not include county hospitals or health care labs, the vice president said.

As the demand for tests grows, private companies are joining the government's efforts to restock masks, ventilators and other supplies. The US Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of the first rapid diagnostic test that could detect the disease in approximately 45 minutes. The tests will start shipping this week, according to the California-based manufacturer.

Meanwhile, Pence and his wife tested negative for the virus Saturday after astaff member in his office tested positive.

Supply and staffing shortages threaten response

Health care workers and state leaders have sounded the alarm on medical supplies beginning to run short, while some medical experts are going a step further and mentioning staff shortages.

Gov. JB Pritzker of Illinois on Sunday likened the struggle to obtain medical supplies to a "Wild West," telling CNN's Jake Tapper there needed to be more federal coordination.

"We're all competing against each other. We're competing against other countries," Pritzker said on "State of the Union." "You know, it's a Wild West, I would say, out there. And indeed, we're overpaying, I would say, for (personal protective equipment) because of that competition."

"This should have been a coordinated effort by the federal government," he added.

President Trump later addressed Pritzker's remarks on Twitter, saying states "shouldn't be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings. We are there to back you up should you fail, and always will be!"

But staffing shortages will likely come even before equipment starts to run out, said Dr. David Hill, a pulmonary critical care physician and a spokesman for the American Lung Association.

"Part of it is just exhausting our personnel. Health care is complicated and people make mistakes when they're overworked," Hill said.

Supply shortages could also contribute to the coronavirus spreading amongst healthcare professionals, Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician with Lifespan, a Rhode Island health system affiliated with Brown University, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

"Unless we increase the number of masks and gowns available," she said, "it's a matter of time before most frontline healthcare workers are infected."

If health care workers get sick, "everything can fall apart very quickly," said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.


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