Residents who hope to get tested for coronavirus should contact their medical provider or health department. (Courtesy photo)

Worried residents hoping to get tested for coronavirus may have to wait

Limited supply of testing kits means most vulnerable and at-risk prioritized

Editor’s note: Since this story went to press,San Francisco officials have identified six additional patients who test positive for coronavirus.

Original story below

Aches and pains, light-headedness. Coughing. Congestion. Deliriousness. A 103-degree fever. And now, bouts of shortness of breath.

Imani Dhahabu, who works in San Francisco but lives in Vallejo, experienced these symptoms and was diagnosed with the flu within the last two weeks. What frustrated her was that she couldn’t get tested for the novel coronavirus as well after asking doctors multiple times.

She said doctors told her that she did not meet two risk factors: She didn’t come from China, and she didn’t come into contact with someone known to be exposed to the virus.

“I’ve never been sick for this long, ever,” she said. “It’s absurd because the people now have community infections,” she said, referring to recent cases caught within the community rather than from travel.

In San Francisco, two people with the virus are suspected to have obtained it through community transmission, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. And with allergy and flu season in full swing, many anxious residents who exhibit symptoms of sickness may want to get tested.

But a national shortage of novel coronavirus testing kits has squeezed local public health departments and made them restrictively judicious about who may get tested.

San Francisco is prioritizing test kits and resources for its most vulnerable and at-risk populations, said Tyrone Jue, an acting city spokesperson during San Francisco’s novel coronavirus emergency.

The California Department of Public Health recommends that those exhibiting symptoms call their local care providers or health department before seeking care.

“Clinicians, especially at S.F. General Hospital, will be familiar with the process to request tests from the San Francisco Department of Public Health Laboratory,” Jue said. “It is based off their existing testing requisition process followed for other communicable diseases.”

He declined to offer specifics to avoid the risk of providing dated information amid the spread of the virus, but he said San Francisco health officials hoped to update their guidance for clinicians by late Friday.

Michi Yukawa, a University of California, San Francisco geriatrician and nursing home director, advised following common sense protocols for those who are sick but haven’t come into contact with someone who has the virus or traveled from a country where the virus has spread.

“If you’re sick, you have to use your own judgment,” Yukawa said about such individuals. “If you normally wouldn’t go to an emergency room if this virus wasn’t going around, don’t go to the emergency room.”

For those who have come in contact with someone from an affected country, Yukawa advised staying home and self-quarantining. She also suggested the same as local and state officials: taking preventative measures, like minimizing contact with others, washing hands frequently, not touching the face and avoiding exposure to others — recommendations also advised by local and state officials.

“There’s no cure and nothing we can do for the virus,” she said. “It’s just symptom management. Unless they’re very, very sick and they need to be seen by a doctor.”

City health officials went one step further on Friday, urging residents to stay home where possible and avoid large gatherings.

Kaiser Permanente is working with state and federal health officials through public health departments to determine whether patients should get tested, according to Stephen Parodi, associate executive director of the Permanente Medical Group.

The healthcare giant is working on implementing a novel coronavirus lab test within one of its own laboratories, but it could take several weeks to provide it on an internal basis, Parodi said.

“If a member is concerned they may have been exposed, they should call the Kaiser Permanente appointment and advice line for further instructions,” Parodi said. “We follow all current CDC and CDPH guidance, and if testing is warranted per those guidelines we will make the appropriate arrangements.”

Public health departments work with the Centers for Disease Control to establish how it’s decided who gets tested. The CDC website appears to prioritize those who’ve come from affected countries or been in contact with someone tested positive for the virus.

The CDC advises people to call their doctors early on if they develop a fever and symptoms of a respiratory illness and have also had close contact with someone known to have the virus, or lived in or recently traveled to a region with an ongoing spread. The healthcare professionals will then work with state health departments and the CDC to determine if a person should get tested, according to the CDC website.

dhorowitz@sfexaminer.com

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