State health officials looking to expand coronavirus testing


March 13, 2020

State officials have promised to expand coronavirus testing, but there is still a lot of confusion about how to get tested and who’s eligible.

The department of health said patients are required to get a written, paper order to get tested at these sites.

But a number of doctors News 8 spoke with said they don’t want patients who are showing symptoms to come to their offices.

Bristol Health is one of three testing centers now up and running in the state.

The testing centers allow for drive-thru style patient care, where nurses in protective gear swab patients in an area separate from the main hospital or building. 

After a massive community effort, working with the local health department and the State, Bristol opened its testing site where health workers in a carefully cordoned off parking lot took samples from patients showing symptoms of the virus.

“Park, step out, and sit into a chair,” said David Koscuk, head of Bristol Health’s EMS and Public Safety, “It’s as close as it gets to a drive-thru.”

Police are on-site in case of crowds.

“Maintaining some discipline so the process can be done well,” said Bristol Police Chief Brian Gould.

The hospital only has a couple of hundred testing kits. Officials are working with the state to find out when and where their next shipment will arrive. The hospital is FedExing off their swabs to a lab at the University of Washington. Lab manager Dana MacDonald says it’ll likely take weeks for Connecticut laboratories to get up and running. She says testing right now is key.

“It’s important to test to understand how prevalent this is and how quickly it’s spreading through the population,” said MacDonald.

Patients hoping to be tested must have a written, signed doctor’s order and a driver’s license. Bristol Hospital officials said that’s required by the state. It cannot be phoned in. But local physicians News 8 spoke with say they are not advising patients with symptoms to come into the office.

“If you think someone has the coronavirus you recommend they stay home, maybe send them for testing down the road,” said Dr. Frank Mongillo of New Haven, “We really don’t want to expose them to everyone in the waiting room either. So a lot of the care would be over the phone.”

Bristol said that’s a logistical issue family physicians have to figure out.

For now, the hospital’s frontline workers are doing what they can with the tools and supplies they have.

“I’m prepared,” said Bristol Hospital Emergency Room Nurse Megan DeFazio. “I’m a nurse so I’m ready to do whatever the community that I serve needs.”

Waterbury Hospital also got its testing center approved and running Friday afternoon. Officials there told News 8 that doctors can, after speaking to a patient by phone, fax over an order to test. 

Ask at the state’s daily press COVID-19 press briefing about the apparent disconnect, the State Epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Cartter acknowledged the issue.

“These sites are using commercial labs for tests right now,” said Cartter. “The biggest issue with testing is getting the sample taken, which goes to [News 8’s] comment because many doctor’s offices are reluctant to have somebody come into the office and have a throat swab done because they don’t have enough personal protection that’s routinely used. And we can’t send them to the emergency departments because they’re full up right now seeing people. So it’s really a question of accelerating these sites for testing.”

He pointed to President Donald Trump’s plans to have retail pharmacy chains set up testing centers, but Cartter said that could take weeks.