May 20, 2022 by John Fernandez
When – and Where – Should You Get Tested for COVID-19?
As the coronavirus’s omicron variant sweeps across the country, demand for COVID-19 testing has far exceeded capacity in many South Florida communities. This has lead to long waits and growing frustration as people anxious to get tested overwhelm government testing sites, local urgent care centers and hospital emergency rooms.
Physicians at Baptist Health are sounding the alarm. They say their staff and facilities are being overwhelmed with people who, even though they have no symptoms, are coming in for a COVID-19 test because they believe they’ve been exposed to the virus.
Katie Acquino, D.O., medical director for Baptist Health Urgent Care Express in Palm Beach County, urges people who want a COVID-19 test and have mild to moderate symptoms to schedule an appointment at their local pharmacy, buy a home test kit if available or visit a community testing site.
“Our urgent care centers and emergency rooms are meant to diagnose and treat the seriously ill and injured,” Dr. Acquino points out. “We are not a community testing site.” She says you should only visit the ER for COVID-19 if you’re having symptoms of severe respiratory distress. “These might include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, or a pale gray or bluish color in the lips, face and nailbeds.”
If you’re not sick and are looking to test for work, travel or gathering clearances, Dr. Acquino strongly recommends going to a community testing site. If you do visit an urgent care center or emergency room, there are certain protocols that must be followed, she says. “Patients are prioritized by their condition, and someone who comes in with no obvious symptoms may have to wait longer while someone with a serious or life-threatening condition is being cared for,” she says.
Anyone who walks into an urgent care center or emergency room must be assessed by a doctor or nurse practitioner. “They’ll conduct a thorough medical evaluation and will perform a COVID-19 test only if it’s deemed necessary,” Dr. Acquino says. “If you’re not symptomatic or if you were only recently exposed, sometimes a test isn’t called for.”
Dr. Acquino also cautions that, because of unprecedented volume, getting results from your COVID-19 test performed at a Baptist Health facility is taking longer than usual – from three to five days, currently. “Some people can’t or don’t want to wait that long for their results – especially if they’re traveling,” she says. “Although you might have to wait in line at a community testing site, most people can get their test results the same day.”
Another advantage of being tested at a community testing site, says Dr. Acquino, is that there is no cost to the patient. “If you go to an urgent care center or an ER, there are healthcare charges associated with your visit, which may or may not be covered by your insurance,” she says. “But COVID-19 tests are available free of charge at all community testing sites.”
The omicron variant has sent infections soaring to levels not seen since last winter, bringing the total number of U.S. coronavirus cases since the pandemic began to more than 62 million, with more than 837,000 deaths.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says that the omicron variant is far more transmissible than previous variants, and that symptoms associated with omicron appear to be milder – particularly in those who are fully vaccinated. “It’s possible some people may have an infection without having any noticeable symptoms,” Dr. Acquino says. The CDC website has helpful COVID-19 testing information and tools to help you determine your best course of action.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can appear within two to 14 days following exposure, the CDC says. If you believe you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, Dr. Acquino recommends following the latest CDC guidance for testing:
• Those who have been fully vaccinated and around someone who has COVID-19 are recommended to get tested between five and seven days after their exposure. (Previous CDC guidance had been between three and five days.)
• Those who develop symptoms should get tested as symptoms develop, but if a test is negative and symptoms persist another test might be needed a few days later, particularly for those who use at-home test kits.
“If you have no symptoms, there’s really no reason to get tested for COVID-19,” Dr. Acquino says. “If you have mild to moderate symptoms, go ahead and get tested, but save the urgent care or ER for people who are seriously ill or injured.”
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