BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - So much has changed in just the week that coronavirus has swept across Louisiana, claiming eight lives and infecting 280 people statewide, as of March 18. As fear over the invisible threat spreads, so does the confusion over exactly who should be tested for the virus and when.
“Testing supplies are limited, and so they are being used judiciously,” said Dr. Dawn Marcelle with the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH).
Now that test kits across the country are scarce, most of the guidance from the state has been the same: only those with symptoms should be tested and those tests must be approved by a doctor.
“You’ve heard us say time and time again that it is important that most vulnerable among us take these tests,” said East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.
It’s a message some say has not been consistent. Celebrities like Idris Elba took to social media this week saying they tested positive for coronavirus after coming into contact with others who had it. Elba said he did not have any symptoms. President Donald Trump was asked in a news conference Wednesday about why some people like professional athletes seem to be getting pushed through for a test while others must continue to wait.
“No, I wouldn’t say so, but perhaps that’s been the story of life,” Trump answered. “That does happen on occasion and I’ve noticed where some people have been tested fairly quickly.”
Neither the president nor Governor John Bel Edwards have symptoms. While the president did come into close contact with someone who tested positive, his test earlier this week came back negative. The governor chose to skip the test.
“It’s exactly why I haven’t been tested because I am not symptomatic and we need people to understand that,” said the governor. “That’s why we have protocols around who should get tested.”
Robin Phoenix-Moore says she has had a fever, a cough, and pain for weeks... the exact symptoms doctors have warned come with coronavirus.
“My throat was itchy first and then I started with a headache,” said Moore. “I started feeling eventually to the point where I told my boss, ‘Hey, I’m not feeling myself, I’m not feeling up to par and I really need to take off from work.’”
She says her tests for strep and flu both came back negative, but tells WAFB’s Scottie Hunter she asked to be tested for coronavirus, but was denied. Moore finally got approved for the test Wednesday, two weeks after her symptoms started.
“I finally got to take the test, so now it’s a waiting game to see what this four-day period is to see what I actually have, if it’s positive or negative, but it’s scary,” said Moore.
While she waits for those results, Moore cannot help but wonder if she has had the virus without getting the chance to find out for sure, possibly spreading it to others.
“It frustrates me because I have kids at home and if I would have been able to get tested weeks ago when I first started showing symptoms, then it would have been a better outcome for me to prepare myself and prepare my family,” said Moore.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Dr. Alexander Billioux, assistant secretary with LDH, if he believes there are people who are falling through the cracks who do have those symptoms and are being turned away from the test.
“I mean, I certainly worry about it and I think statistically, when you’re talking about everybody in the state with every provider in the state, there probably is somebody who we’re missing and that’s why we’ve been really working to try to bring much more of the commercial testing online,” said Billioux.
Dr. Billioux agrees not everyone should be tested, but he does say those who have symptoms and go untested could be putting others at risk. The state’s top physician says anyone with symptoms whose doctor has turned them down for a test might want to seek a second opinion.
“If you do have symptoms and you feel like you’re not getting the answer that you want, I’m always going to say a second opinion is not a bad idea,” said Dr. Billioux.
Currently, more than 700 people have been tested at the state’s lab. In the capital area, close to 500 have been tested since Monday, March 16 at drive-thru facilities, like the one at the Baton Rouge General Mid-City campus. Even with two other sites now available in the Baton Rouge area, it’s hard to say whether everyone who needs it will be seen. Whether folks end up getting tested or not, Dr. Billioux says the important thing is to make smart choices and reduce their risk of getting infected.
“All of us have a role to play in that and that hopefully gives us a sense of comfort and control, that I can control my exposure to some extent,” said Dr. Billioux.
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