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What it takes to get tested for coronavirus in Washington

A health worker testing possible coronavirus samples. (Ali Shirband/Mizan News Agency via AP)

Despite the increased presence of coronavirus in Washington state, many have been left with questions over how and when exactly to get tested.

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That was detailed in a lengthy story recently circulated on Twitter, of one Seattle patient’s ultimately fruitless quest to get tested for coronavirus. The patient reported being put on hold for 40 minutes, further calls to two separate primary care doctors, and then a transfer to the COVID-19 hotline, where she was informed she did not qualify for testing despite exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.

Similar stories made their way to Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who spoke Tuesday before the U.S. Senate Health Committee.

“The people across my state are really scared — I’m hearing from people who are sick, who want to get tested, and don’t know where to go,” she described. “It’s unacceptable that people in my state can’t even get an answer as to whether or not they are infected.”

So, what exactly is the criteria for getting tested for coronavirus? According to the the Washington State Department of Health, patients must meet one or more of the following requirements:

  • Fever or lower respiratory symptoms and close contact (including health care work) with a confirmed COVID-19 case within 14 days of symptom onset.
  • Fever and lower respiratory symptoms requiring hospitalization and travel to an affected geographic location within 14 days of symptom onset.
  • Fever with severe acute lower respiratory illness (i.e. pneumonia, ARDS, etc.) requiring hospitalization and without an alternative explanatory diagnosis.
  • A request from a local health officer (or any equivocal epidemiology or clinical symptoms).

Essentially, this limits testing to anyone who is both displaying symptoms, and has come into direct, confirmed contact with the virus either in the U.S. or abroad (in countries rated as an extreme risk by the CDC). For those who have been tested, the process has been a slow one.

“It’s only after a long frustrating delay that we’re able to test patients,” said Sen. Murray, citing a lack of necessary resources to adequately deal with testing. “Resources are absolutely critical, but also were never envisioned to be sufficient to respond to a threat like this.”

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Relief will hopefully be on the horizon in Washington. According to Washington Rep. Kim Schrier, the state will soon have the ability to test over 200 people a day for coronavirus.

“My understanding is that within a week, we will be in the realm of hundreds of thousands, if not a million tests across the country — many of those resources will come to Washington state,” Schrier told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show.

This all acts in stark contrast to countries like South Korea, which have instituted measures like drive-through testing. Drivers can pull into a parking lot, where workers in hazmat suits shepherd them through several stations to measure temperatures and swab for samples.

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