testing

A Co-Diagnostics COVID-19 testing kit is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. Officials in the Central Texas area are urging patience as testing operations ramps up.

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Hill County Judge Justin Lewis said he is just a country lawyer playing minor league ball in Hillsboro, but, like many, he has major concerns about the lack of tests available for the coronavirus that has the world in its grasp.

Lewis said he is astounded that testing for COVID-19 has not been “ramped up” in the short time since the pandemic was declared. Still, he said his focus while others expand testing capacity is on what he can do to limit the spread of the disease.

“I most definitely have concerns about testing,” Lewis said. “I have talked to a lot of people who are frustrated that they can’t get tested, and they are frustrated with us when we tell them that not everybody is going to get tested. People are scared. There is a panic out there. But unfortunately, there is no magic potion that is going to instantly fix everything, and it is not just the testing.

“Not everybody needs to be tested, and that is not what we need to be focusing on. How are we going to manage this inside our community? That should be our focus. But I do have major concerns that testing has been this slow getting rolled out,” he said.

Michael Ellis, chief executive officer at Hill Regional Hospital, said the hospital lab director contacted a medical supply vendor and was told they could purchase tests but only if they bought in bulk of 9,500. With a county of 24,000 residents, Ellis said it was not feasible or necessary to buy that many.

State officials said that as of Friday afternoon, there had been 5,277 COVID-19 tests statewide. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott told mayors and county officials that the supply of tests exceeded demand. However, on Thursday, Abbott said the state will soon have the capacity to test about 15,000 people a week.

In McLennan County, 70 tests had been conducted and reported to the local health district as of Saturday afternoon, with 16 coming back positive for the coronavirus and 34 results pending. Ellis said only a “handful” of tests have been ordered for Hill County residents with none being positive.

McLennan County’s testing numbers do not include all tests conducted by private labs.

While people may be clamoring to be tested, health officials continue to reiterate that they are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols while knowing that testing everyone who might want a test will overload and swamp the system.

The pandemic has created rapidly changing scenarios as officials try to figure out the best way to stave off mass infections. In-person school classes, indoor dining at restaurants, movies and plays at theaters, concerts and church services have been canceled. Courthouse judicial proceedings and law enforcement efforts have been curtailed as officials attempt to comply with rules limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer.

Health officials continue to stress that it is crucial that people without symptoms not seek testing and for everyone to sharpen their efforts at social distancing. Those seeking testing should be limited to those exhibiting symptoms, such as coughing, fever and shortness of breath, those who have traveled recently to another state or country experiencing the outbreak or those exposed to COVID-19.

Anyone who meets at least two of those conditions and are referred for testing by a doctor is eligible to be tested under current CDC guidelines. Those with symptoms only are being advised to self-quarantine.

Ellis said Hill County residents who meet the criteria are being referred for testing to the Ascension Providence clinic in Lacy Lakeview.

Two local Baylor Scott & White clinics have set up drive-thru clinics, said Megan Snipes, spokeswoman for Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center.

Snipes and Ascension Texas spokeswoman Kathy Hadlock both said Friday the hospitals would not divulge how many people they had tested.

In Bosque County, Goodall-Witcher Healthcare set up a Coronavirus Hotline at 254-675-0004 for residents who think they may have symptoms of COVID-19 and have been exposed to the virus.

Due to currently limited testing resources, hospital officials said in a press release that they are unable to test every person who may have been exposed to the virus or who wishes to be tested. Only those who have signs and symptoms of COVID-19 that cannot be explained by other tests are presently being tested, hospital officials said.

Those who have a cough, fever or shortness of breath and who believe they have been exposed to the coronavirus are urged to call the hotline before visiting the hospital’s emergency room or clinic. The phone line will be staffed around the clock daily by a licensed healthcare professional, the press release states.

A nonresident patient tested positive for the coronavirus and was discharged to self-quarantine, the hospital reported last week.

Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest officials said in a press release Friday that they have established a free online screening questionnaire to help those with questions about their potential risk for COVID-19 infection. The questionnaire is available on theMyBSWHealth app and at MyBSWHealth.com.

Ascension Texas has established a COVID-19 hotline that is available from 6 a.m. to midnight and staffed by registered nurses who will answer questions from the public. The number is 1-833-919-1680. It also is offering video urgent care visits for $20, with no insurance required.

The hospitals are asking anyone with fever, cough or other respiratory symptoms to call before going to a service location in-person.

Health professionals say for most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as a fever or cough. People with mild cases recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe ones can take from three to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization.


Photos: The latest images from the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., around the world

Tribune-Herald staff writer Carl Hoover contributed to this report.

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