COVID-19 testing helps trace, contain the virus
LAKE COUNTY – As Montana’s number of COVID-19 cases declines from early-July highs, questions about how and when to be tested for the virus remain. Lake County Public Health nurse Leigh Estvold shed light on some common concerns about testing.
People who have symptoms, like cough, fever or shortness of breath, are being tested by local medical providers. If a person is scheduled to have medical procedures, they are also tested prior to entering the medical facility. Those who public health nurses identify as close contacts of people testing positive are also eligible for testing and will be notified by a nurse during the contact tracing process. People who are not exhibiting symptoms of the virus may or may not be eligible for testing depending on the number of supplies available, the situation and the medical provider.
People who believe they have been in close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days. Close contacts are those who have been within six feet of the person who has the virus for 15 minutes or more. Those who suspect they’ve been in contact with someone who has the virus should carefully watch for developing symptoms during their quarantine.
A negative test does not necessarily mean someone who’s had close contact with an infected person is safe. Close contacts need to continue to quarantine for the full 14 days even if they test negative because people can develop the virus anytime in the 14 days following exposure, including in the days after obtaining a negative test.
Patients across the country have complained of long wait times for COVID-19 test results in recent weeks. On July 22, Governor Steve Bullock announced a plan for getting test results faster and increasing the volume of testing in the state. The plan involves cutting ties with the lab that was previously processing Montana’s tests and making a deal with Montana State University and the North Carolina MAKO Medical Lab.
Bullock said MSU could process up to 500 tests each day. He said this would allow surveillance testing of asymptomatic essential workers and healthcare professionals to ensure that those people do not unknowingly contract the virus and spread it. Estvold said that wait times for results vary, but when labs are not overwhelmed, results come within one or two days.
Those who have symptoms or suspect they have come into contact with the virus should immediately isolate, Estvold said, and then call ahead to be tested at a local medical facility. Positive cases will be reported to Lake County Public Health where nurses will contact the infected person’s close contacts. Public health nurses can also provide support during a patient’s recovery from the virus at home. They can help assess when a person who was infected with the virus can safely leave his or her home. Estvold said following these guidelines could benefit a patient’s recovery and reduce his or her chances of spreading the virus, but these steps are not mandatory. People can choose to recover from the virus at home and not be tested.