Coronavirus New York: health officials provide limits on testing patients for COVID-19

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

NEW YORK -- New York City health officials have directed medical providers to stop testing patients for the coronavirus, except for those sick enough to require hospitalization, saying wider testing is exhausting supplies of protective equipment.

In an advisory issued Friday, the health department said outpatient testing should stop unless results would impact a patient's treatment.

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It said demand for unnecessary testing is contributing to a national shortage of masks, gowns, collection swabs and other supplies, all of which need to be discarded by health care workers after each test.

"We have been clear that testing is best indicated for people who are symptomatic, have chronic underlying illnesses, and are not getting better," said New York City's health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot.

She also urged the public not to seek treatment just because they are sick, noting that the disease is mild for most and resolves within a few weeks.

"Only go to the doctor if you are getting worse," she said, noting that every trip to a medical clinic by a sick person potentially exposes others to the disease.

The order came amid a huge surge in testing in New York. After a slow start, testing sites have proliferated, and many officials have said that widespread testing is a key to fighting the spread of the disease.

As of Friday morning, more than 32,000 people had been tested in the state, almost a third of them in the last day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

More than 7,000 New Yorkers have tested positive. More than 1,200 have been hospitalized.

Similar restrictions on testing have been implemented in other parts of the state.

Albany Medical Center and St. Peter's Health Partners said they were also suspending community testing to conserve resources.

"The difficult decision was made in order to conserve testing resources for those at highest risk, including inpatients, symptomatic direct care workers and those with high-risk exposure to the virus," according to a release.

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