New order allows testing for even those without symptoms

State Health Director Cara Christ at a briefing on COVID-19 earlier this month. 

PHOENIX – Arizonans who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 can now get tested.

But be prepared to stay home, at least while you’re waiting for the results -- if not longer.

The new order from state Health Director Cara Christ is a major shift from what had been her policy to reserve the tests only for those who either had a doctor’s order or had actual and specific symptoms. The health director said at the time that was designed to preserve the tests for those most in need.

Christ said, though, there now appears to be evidence that at least some outlets, including private health labs and the University of Arizona, now have sufficient supplies.

But it still doesn’t rise to the level of anyone who wants a test can get a test. And Arizona is far from universal testing, with the 58,750 tests conducted so far totaling less than 1 percent of the population. More to the point, there are strings attached for those who are eligible based on suspected exposure.

First, those seeking tests under her new order will first have to sign a “voluntary isolation agreement’’ to not go anywhere until the results come back.

If the results are negative, no problem. But if there is a positive result, then it gets more complicated.

A spokeswoman for the health department said that means no travel anywhere until there has been no fever for at least 72 hours -- meaning without any medicine that reduces fever -- and that other symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath have improved. And, even if the symptoms are gone, the person who got the positive test result still cannot go out until at least seven days have passed since the specimen was collected.

Christ acknowledged the importance of knowing who has the virus and can spread it.

“We know that rapidly identifying cases, case follow up, and contact tracing will help slow the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities,’’ she said. “Success in these areas require an increase in our testing capacity.’’

Of those who have been able to get tested, 9 percent of the results came back positive.

It isn’t just the added availability of test kits and the necessary chemicals that go with it that should result in more people finding out if they are infectious.

Christ said her agency has distributed 15 machines throughout the state that can provide actual results within 15 minutes.

It was just a month ago that Christ told doctors to actually discourage testing for COVID-19 for most patients because of the shortage of supplies.

“Clinicians should consider removing this diagnostic ‘tool’ from their toolbox,’’ she said. Instead, the director said they should manage all their patients with any respiratory conditions “as if they have COVID-19.’’

Christ said at the time she saw no specific reason for doctors to be able to determine -- or tell their patients -- if they have the conoravirus.

“There is no specific treatment or management strategy (for COVID-19), and results should not change clinical management,’’ she wrote.

The latest announcement comes as the number of confirmed cases of the virus has hit 5,769 in Arizona, with 249 deaths.

Christ also said work is underway for another kind of test, this one to determine if someone has had the virus and has since recovered.

In essence these serology tests determine if someone has developed antibodies. Less clear, Christ said, is whether that means they are immune from future infections, and for how long.

Christ said that, if nothing else, these tests can become a screening tool for first responders and health care personnel to determine if they might be immune.

There also are experiments at various hospitals infusing the plasma of those with positive antibody tests into those who are infected.


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