Authorities urge limits on coronavirus testing to conserve equipment

New York National Guard members collect samples from drivers at the drive-through COVID-19 Mobile Testing Center located at the South Beach Behavioral Center in Staten Island, N.Y., on Thursday. Photo by Maj. Patrick Cordova/U.S. Air National Guard
1 of 2 | New York National Guard members collect samples from drivers at the drive-through COVID-19 Mobile Testing Center located at the South Beach Behavioral Center in Staten Island, N.Y., on Thursday. Photo by Maj. Patrick Cordova/U.S. Air National Guard | License Photo

March 21 (UPI) -- Federal officials joined health authorities in major cities Saturday in recommending individuals without symptoms of coronavirus refrain from seeking testing.

"If you don't have symptoms don't do a test," Vice President Mike Pence told reporters at a Saturday briefing on the novel coronavirus.


Assistant Secretary for Health Brett P. Giroir said while testing capacity is expanding and expected to continue to increase in the near future, officials are prioritizing tests for healthcare workers who are symptomatic as well as anyone with symptoms who is older than 65 or has underlying conditions.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, elaborated on that recommendation.

"When you go in to get tested, you are consuming high priority items, such as masks and gowns," Fauci said.


He also encouraged patients and care providers to cancel non-urgent medical appointments, particularly dental appointments.

Some jurisdictions have compelled the cancellations of such appointments -- including elective veterinary procedures -- and have asked providers to donate gloves and masks to hospitals.

Much of Saturday's briefing focused on equipment shortages, with President Donald Trump saying private companies had "stepped up" to manufacture more masks and ventilators.

He named two companies that have offered to help -- Hanes and General Motors -- and said the Department of Health and Human Services has ordered 500,000 new N95 masks.

Trump demurred on reports that state governments are still struggling to acquire equipment and defended a prior claim that malaria drugs can provide relief for those suffering from the virus. Fauci described such claims as "anecdotal."

The federal recommendation came after reporting that local health officials are moving to change their coronavirus testing protocols, telling healthcare workers to test only those in which knowing the results would change their treatment approach.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health told doctors on Thursday that because of an increase in patients and a shortage of tests, they should be more selective in whom they choose to test.


The department "is shifting from a strategy of case containment to slowing disease transmission and averting excess morbidity and mortality," said a letter to hospitals viewed by the Los Angeles Times.

Several other local authorities have since followed suit.

The guidance said doctors should only test for the presence of the virus when "a diagnostic result will change clinical management or inform public health response."

The New York City Department of Health has also directed doctors to stop testing non-hospitalized patients.

"At this point in the pandemic, demand for unnecessary testing is contributing to the rapidly diminishing supply of [personal protective equipment] and leading to a decreasing supply of swabs and viral transport media used to collect diagnostic specimens for COVID-19 testing," a statement from the department said.

"Testing may play a more significant role after the pandemic has peaked."

At a Saturday press conference, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state of New York would send a million N95 respirator masks to New York City.

He also said some clothing manufacturers in the state have rapidly pivoted to making masks.


"One million masks won't get us through the crisis, but it will make a significant contribution to New York City's mask issue," Cuomo said.

Meanwhile, the governors of Oregon and New Jersey are the latest to restrict movement and gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, but both fell short of issuing full stay-at-home orders.

The states' new rules come as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 rose to 260 Saturday, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. The school said the total number of confirmed cases in the United States neared 20,000 as of 7 a.m. Saturday.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced plans for the state's new "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" plan in a joint news conference with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Friday night.

She said the state will reveal the full details of the plan Monday, but called for "aggressive social distancing." She declined to describe the new plan as a shelter-in-place order, saying the phrase implied a complete lock-down in the state.

"The storm is coming but we still have time to change its course. Stay home and stay healthy," she said. "I am directing Oregonians (starting) tonight to stay home to stay healthy. Social distancing, done well, can save lives."


Brown called on Oregonians to stay at home "unless absolutely necessary." The "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" is expected to limit dining and drinking at restaurants and bars, ban gatherings of more than 25 people.

Wheeler, though, said the order will be similar to California's stay-at-home order issued Thursday. That order requires all residents to stay home except to get groceries or gas, or visit pharmacies banks or laundromats. The governors of Connecticut, Illinois and New York issued similar orders Friday, shuttering non-essential travel and business.

"This is not a lockdown," Wheeler said. "This will be a 'stay at home unless it's absolutely necessary' order."

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, issued an executive order Saturdayshutting down all non-essential business in the state.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, hardware stores, laundromats, banks and pet stores are all exempt from the order -- as are liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries.

"From day one, we've made a commitment to be guided by the facts and take any action necessary to protect the health and safety of New Jersey's nine million residents," Murphy said in a press release announcing the order. "We know the virus spreads through person-to person contact, and the best way to prevent further exposure is to limit our public interactions to only the most essential purposes. This is a time for us all to come together in one mission to 'flatten the curve' and slow - and eventually halt - the spread of coronavirus."


Latest Headlines