Questions about COVID-19 testing and treatment in the county have persisted since a meeting of city, county and local health care officials Monday, and they increased in frequency after state public health officials confirmed a positive case in Lamar County on Thursday.
Many questions have been relayed to The Paris News via Facebook, and some involved reports of sick people unable to get the test. One such report said a man running a fever and feeling ill was turned away at Paris Regional Medical Center and was refused testing because he had no insurance. The post stated that hospital staff told him to go to the Paris-Lamar County Health District clinic, but he was turned away, again citing a lack of insurance. Hospital and health district staff said a lack of insurance wouldn’t have prevented service.
The Paris News reached out to the 43-year-old Lamar County man, who will not be identified publicly to protect his health care privacy.
“I’ve had a fever for three days,” he said Tuesday by phone. “I went to the ER on Sunday, was tested for the flu and had a chest X-ray, which both came back negative and was told to come back on Monday. By Monday my fever was 103 and the ER was packed. I was placed in a room by myself, given a mask to wear and after being checked for fever a few times over the next few hours, I was told to go home, take ibuprofen and self-quarantine until March 30. I was told I could not get tested for the virus because I would have to be admitted to the hospital for that, and I could not be admitted because I had no insurance. Today, I still have a fever and I am at home.”
The man said he did not go the Health District clinic, but said he had called the office on Tuesday and was told he did not meet the criteria for virus testing.
Health District Director Gina Prestridge said the clinic has seen a handful of patients with flu-like symptoms, and one person who came in and requested COVID-19 testing by name.
“If someone turned up here sick enough and met the criteria for testing, we would work with their primary care physician to get them tested. It would not be an insurance issue; it would be an issue of not meeting the testing criteria. About 99% of the patients we see here do not have insurance,” Prestridge said.
The clinic has an “extremely limited” testing capability, she said, and the clinic doors have signs urging anyone who thinks they have the virus to not come into the clinic at all, but to call their primary care provider and have their primary care physician conduct the tests. She said the health district is working with doctors to get the samples sent off to a state medical laboratory for testing.
“The role of the Health District is to assist the hospital, free standing emergency departments, physician’s offices and concerned citizens during this COVID-19 crisis with the screening process,” Prestridge said. “The Health District does not see other private physicians’ patients. The Health District will, however, assist individuals who do not have a primary care provider.”
She urged those with fever, cold or flu symptoms to stay home and call their primary care physician for advice. Those with severe, rapid progression of shortness of breath should go to the emergency department.
Paris Regional Medical Center’s communications director, Savannah Abbott, declined to comment on the man’s report for privacy reasons, but said the hospital would not deny someone service, even if they couldn’t pay.
“We take the privacy of our patients very seriously, therefore we cannot comment on any matter related to a specific patient or situation. We can confirm that we do not turn away patients due to their inability to pay. That has no bearing on the treatment anyone receives. We are required by law to provide care regardless of insurance or payment standing,” she said.
Need to know for testing
In a Friday statement on testing and treatment policies, Paris Regional said it has “not treated any patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 at our hospital to date,” adding it is taking measure to prepare to do so in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
The hospital reiterated a point made during Monday’s meeting by Health District epidemiologist Mark Lueke that those concerned they may have COVID-19 should call their health care providers before going to the doctor’s office or clinic. The provider “may consult with the health department to determine if testing is appropriate.” The release also advises someone with a medical emergency, including shortness of breath, to call 911 and tell the dispatcher they are having symptoms consistent with the virus.
“An emergency medicine provider will determine, in coordination with the health department and CDC guidelines, if testing is appropriate,” the statement reads.
“Currently, all three indicators for testing include fever as a symptom” it continues. “Someone may be a candidate for testing if he or she has:
1. A fever and cough or shortness of breath AND has been in close contact with a laboratory- confirmed COVID-19 case; or,
2. A fever and cough or shortness of breath and a history of travel from affect geographic areas; or,
3. A fever and cough or shortness of breath requiring hospitalization with no other source of exposure.”
Local officials issue guidelines
At the Monday meeting, local health officials also stressed the importance of what is being described as “self-quarantining.”
“Stay home if you are not that sick,” said Dr. Amanda Green, local physician and a member of the Health District’s board of directors. “If you are short of breath, call your doctor, and if you are very short of breath, call EMS to come to the hospital.”
Physicians will assess individual situations, and if needed, will make arrangements for patients to come into the office in a manner not to expose others, Lueke said Monday, adding testing for the virus, only through the health department, will take place if a patient is showing specific symptoms as recommended by the CDC.
Gov. Greg Abbott has said the state can expect an increase in the amount of testing kits available, and warned people to expect the number of those testing positive to “skyrocket.”
Experts say even with increased test kits available, the testing process itself may be slowed by the low number of testing facilities across the country and each facilities’ inability to process any more than 100 samples each day.
Paris Regional’s statement to the media includes information on the hospital’s plans to “explor(e) options for a community testing center. In the meantime, any additional questions regarding the testing process should be referred directly to your healthcare provider or our partners at the health department.”
For more information on what to do if you or someone you know is showing symptoms, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website at CDC.gov.