Vermont to use out-of-state lab; concern grows among those untested

Published: Mar. 20, 2020 at 5:19 PM EDT
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One of the main frustrations for many people around the region -- and the country -- is the lack of widely-available COVID-19 testing. So far, it been prioritized to health care workers, hospitalized patients, and vulnerable populations. Vermont health officials on Friday announced a new effort to expand that testing, but whether you get one or not will still be up to your doctor.

"It's very frustrating. We were told you would only get a test if it was very severe symptoms," said Emily Collins from Fairfax. She and her family are in quarantine and her parents are sick. They know it's not the flu because that test came back negative, but they don't know if it's coronavirus because no one will give them a test for it.

"We were really hoping we could get a test so we could spread the word to everyone we've been around, so it was actually a big shock when we couldn't get a referral," Collins said.

Her concerns mirror others we're hearing from. And the health department is hearing them too.

"I know there is some frustration. People are very curious and concerned that if they have some symptoms, they may have it. And that this point we would say -- you may," said Vt. Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan.

The state has so far run all coronavirus tests at its Colchester lab. on Friday Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that's changing as they access out-of-state commercial labs. "Which will allow us to test a majority of what we term low-priority test specimens, hopefully within a 48-hour turnaround time," he said.

Levine went on to reiterate that tests are for symptomatic individuals and listed a broad range of potential signs of coronavirus -- from cough, fever, and shortness of breath, to body aches and headaches. He said it's still up to your doctor to decide whether you should be tested.

Many people we have talked to say their doctors wouldn't refer them for testing unless they had severe symptoms, contact with a positive case, or traveled to an area where cases were widespread.

Collins fears that if people don't hear of documented cases in their towns, they will think it isn't there yet. "Without tests, we can't know if it's in every town," she said.

When asked about the availability of hospital beds and supplies like ventilators, the Vt. Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said they have 500 available beds right now, with the capacity to add more if need be. He said they have 153 ventilators, with 87 more on the way. They're also looking to convert existing ventilators into ones that could be used for coronavirus patients.

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