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If you want to be tested for the coronavirus, your options might be limited (Free read)

(WYDaily/Courtesy of Pixabay)
(WYDaily/Courtesy of Pixabay)

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While the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to get closer to the area, government officials and local health organizations are addressing concerns about lack of available test kits.

During a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam addressed the issue of the virus but did not declare a state of emergency. Instead, he requested Virginians who are concerned about potentially having the virus to seek medical advice from their local hospitals and doctors.

As of Wednesday, there are nine presumptive positive cases in state, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Yet with the continual spread, government officials said there still are not enough tests to address the issue.

“Currently there are a limited number of tests available, but we have more today than we did yesterday,” said Dr.Lilian Peake, Virginia’s state epidemiologist. 

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Peake said all but one of the cases in the state were tested at the Virginia State Laboratory Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services since they began testing on Feb. 29. She added that DCLS gets materials to run the test from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is working to produce and distribute more materials.

Test kit shortage

Earlier in February, the CDC had to recall its first set of test kits after one ingredient caused inconclusive readings.

Since then, health systems have been functioning off a limited supply of test kits which means patients who are considered more at-risk for contracting the virus, or from suffering greater impacts, are prioritized for testing. This means the elderly population in nursing homes and individuals that meet the travel and contact criteria from VDH.

Peake said Virginians should remember it is currently the height of flu season, so someone without a known risk of being exposed to the coronavirus is more likely to simply have the flu or a different respiratory virus. 

“Until more tests are available for [the coronavirus], testing at the state lab is being prioritized for people who have respiratory symptoms and were in contact with a confirmed case, [have] traveled to an area where the virus is widespread or are in a nursing home.”

At Sentara Healthcare, new procedures have taken effect in order to both contain and address possible cases of the virus.

Sentara on Friday started partnering with the private laboratory testing facilities LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics, said Dale Gauding, spokesman for Sentara. Previously, tests were only being sent to DCLS in Richmond and then having to be confirmed through the CDC.

Gauding said offering the services of private laboratories helps provide testing options for patients who feel they might be sick with the virus but don’t meet VDH’s criteria to be tested.

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“The Virginia Department of Health might not think you meet criteria but your doctor could think there is a reason to swab a patient,” Gauding said. “[Private labs] can now provide that clinical judgement so if the state won’t do it, they can.”

Gauding said Sentara is also working on their ability to provide in-house testing at their laboratories. 

However, the downfall of using a private lab is the amount of time it takes to complete the test, Gauding pointed out. While the state lab can complete a test in about a day, it might take a private lab multiple days.

Gauding said the cost of testing through a private lab is subject to a patient’s health insurance plan.

Cost of testing

For those who need to be tested or who could potentially be impacted by the virus and don’t have insurance, the cost of health care can become an issue.

Dr. Karen Kimsey, director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, said Medicaid expansion in the past year will help thousands of Virginians find coverage should they need health care assistance.

She added that the government is aware there are still many Virginians who don’t have access to health care and encouraged residents to check online if they are eligible.

In the meantime, the Medicaid program will be assessing various aspects, such as waiving co-payments, to ensure residents have the ability to access the health care they need.

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For those enrolled with Optima Health, Sentara’s health plan, co-pays for coronavirus testing will be waived if the test is prescribed by an in-network physician, Gauding said.

“All of this is in development,” Gauding said. “Hospitals have long-standing protocols in place to manage communicable diseases…there’s different aspects to it and we have to respond to each one as they come along.”

Coronavirus update as of Wednesday, March 11, 2020:

  • The World Health Organization has officially classified COVID-19 as a pandemic.
  • The U.S. has now reached 1,000 cases and 31 deaths, according to CDC director Robert Redfield.
  • Starting Thursday, all Sentara hospitals will allow only two visitors when visiting patients in their hospitals, emergency departments, and all other outpatient settings. Visitors are asked not to come if they are sick with coughing, sneezing or fever, or if they have traveled internationally.
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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