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How Are Coronavirus Tests Getting To Where They Need To Go?

Mar 16, 2020
Originally published on March 17, 2020 5:48 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All right. Let's talk about testing. After weeks of delays and shortages, officials now say that nearly 2 million coronavirus tests will be available and labs across the country will be able to test thousands of people a day starting this week. The White House also said this will include drive-through and walk-through testing sites set up in the hardest-hit states. But this is also the same White House that promised millions of test kits weeks ago and was forced to admit that there was a supply shortage.

So how and where can people get tested for the coronavirus? NPR's global health and development correspondent Jason Beaubien joins us now to help answer that question. Hi, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: So where are these new tests going to come from? Where are they going? I mean, how are they going to get to where they need to go?

BEAUBIEN: You know, it's going to be different in different places. Some of it is going to be sort of put on top of what has already been rolled out in some states. But we are expecting to see testing popping up in parking lots of Walmarts and Walgreens and people having the ability to go online, find out where a particular testing site is, make an appointment, go in and get tested.

The government is saying, however, that they really are going to try to prioritize this for first responders, health care workers and the elderly - particularly, the elderly who are showing either some symptoms or have some underlying conditions.

Initially, they do know that there's a huge pent-up demand for testing. They want to make sure that the people who really need it the most get access to it. But it is this entirely new model that they're going to try to roll out to get testing to thousands and thousands of people. After, you know, last week only being able to test a few thousand people a day, the idea here is that each individual location could do 2,000 to 4,000 people a day.

MARTIN: Right, which is still - we should say South Korea has been testing 15,000 people a day. So the United States is way behind on this.

BEAUBIEN: Way behind.

MARTIN: Explain, though, what difference this is going to make when we talk about flattening the curve, so to speak.

BEAUBIEN: So, you know, in terms of attacking this outbreak in this country, if you don't know where the flare-ups are happening, you can't really put the resources there. You can't isolate people. You're going to have people still wandering around who are infectious. So by testing, you can really identify where the hot spots are, try to get those people the care that they need and get people isolated and, also, make people more careful in those particular places. So knowing exactly what's happening with the spread of this outbreak is one of the keys that will come out of more testing. At least, that is the hope.

Again, they're starting to roll this out. The equipment is going to start moving out. It could still - they're saying they're going to do this this week. You know, it might not be till the end of the week that we really are getting this thing up and running.

MARTIN: OK. So we've been talking a lot about how U.S. hospitals are really vulnerable. They just don't have the capacity...

BEAUBIEN: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...To deal with this pandemic. What are you hearing right now from folks on the ground?

BEAUBIEN: Hearing at hospitals that they are very concerned about getting inundated with patients. And that's part of the reason that they're trying to do this testing in parking lots - so that the testing part of it can be outside of the hospitals so that the hospital can focus on actually helping treat the people who are actually sick.

Hospitals are also very worried about the amount of protective equipment that they have on hand and whether they're going to have enough in the coming days if they do get thousands and thousands of people showing up at emergency rooms all across the country with this disease. So that's a big concern for them.

MARTIN: We also heard the U.S. surgeon general announce in recent days that hospital surgeons should think about canceling elective surgeries. So just...

BEAUBIEN: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Another change afoot. NPR's Jason Beaubien, we appreciate it.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.