Local doctor frustrated with COVID-19 testing process

Local Coronavirus Coverage

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – Prior to Tuesday, there was not a public facility for the community members experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to get tested and that was causing problems for local physicians.

SEE ALSO: ETSU Health offering outpatient coronavirus testing

One pediatrician in Elizabethton, Dr. Rebecca Powers, who has continued seeing patients during the COVID-19 outbreak, said she had a patient the other day with symptoms who she felt needed to get tested for the virus as soon as possible. She said she followed the guidelines set forth for requesting testing for a patient and ran into a number of roadblocks.

Dr. Powers runs Village Pediatrics in Elizabethton. She told News Channel 11 there have been fewer visitors to her office, but more questions being asked by phone or online. Now with the addition of the community testing facility at ETSU Health, that should alleviate leg work for local doctors when it comes to COVID-19, however, that wasn’t the case on Monday.

“Nobody answered the phone we got immediately answered by kind of a Robo-type call thing and were placed in a queue on hold,” said Dr. Powers. She said she called the regional health department about the patient she believed was exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

After calling the health department as well as multiple local hospitals, Powers said it took forever to get the answers she needed.

“I think my biggest disappointment is that the methods that we were told to use in order to get help for these patients clearly fell through for me Monday afternoon, this was a two-hour process of trying to get this child tested,” she said.

Thankfully, Powers said her office was able to test the child on their own using the same tests they use for the flu, but those results could take days to process.

“It’s just a nasal swab, much like you would do for the flu. It’s the exact same swab you would use for a flu test,” she said. While it’s the same testing method, the actual process of testing the sample itself is different. Whereas results for the flu are returned within a few hours, she said this test could take up to 72 hours to see the results.

News Channel 11 called the health department number to see how long the wait time was for the average caller and got an answer within a few seconds. While that was the case during our phone call made mid-afternoon, Powers told News Channel 11 she tried calling the hotline a little after 4 p.m. but with the offices open until 6, she thinks that a response should have been immediate.

“I do think that the timing had to do a little bit with it but these are extraordinary circumstances and I do think people need to be prepared and have a proper response time when it comes to answering the phones,” she said.

The Northeast Regional Health Department Office has created an information line for local residents and healthcare providers to call with questions or concerns related to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. If you need to contact their office, the number is 423-979-4689.

With the testing center open at ETSU Health, those who are exhibiting symptoms can be pre-screened and tested as soon as possible.

For more coverage on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, click here.

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