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New guidelines, new priorities: healthcare workers say not all can get access to testing

Posted at 5:42 PM, Mar 25, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Wednesday afternoon Erie County Executive announced new guidelines for priority testing in the County.

PRIORITY will now go to:

-healthcare workers, and those who pose a risk by being in close proximity to health care workers

-law enforcement

-people living in heavily populated places: prison, nursing homes, etc.

-pregnant women, or women who have just given birth

People who will NOT be given priority testing are:

-people already under quarantine, with mild symptoms

-people without symptoms, even if in contact with someone positive

-mildly sick people who do not live in heavily populated areas

These are the guidelines that health care providers must follow when contacting the health department to recommend testing.

Dr. Raul Vazquez, a family care physician, says doctors can only recommend testing, but what happens after that is out of their hands.

“The Department of Health and everyone says ‘call your primary care’,” said Vazquez. “So yeah, they call and we refer, but then once the testing gets done we’re out of the loop as a primary care physician.”

Stephanie Surman is an LPN who works in private homecare directly with children, she and her boyfriend have had symptoms of COVID-19 for over a week but cannot get a test.

“Even though we haven’t been confirmed there’s no way we don’t have it. We’ve got it. It’s the not knowing that’s killing us.”

She said she tested negative for both strep and the flu and was swabbed for a COVID-19 test, but could not get approved to have the test done.

“We thought we could just maybe go into the ER, tell them our symptoms and they could test us and we could go home and wait to see if we have it or not, but that’s not what happened.”

A week ago, according to health officials, she would have qualified for testing. Today — and every day — the qualifications continue to change.

“The problem is — it’s being focused more at the hospital and the department of health level,” said Vazquez. “But then you have providers out in the field that are disconnected, and we’re trying to get equipment and we can’t, and we have more range in terms of the people we touch.”

Vazquez converted his practice entirely to a Telehealth model and is seeing patients remotely.

“Right now the hospitals and the ERs — all those places are infected, so if you didn’t have an infection, you’re going to the right place to pick it up.”

Surman sent her 14-year-old son to stay with his father last week and has not been able to bring him home because of the uncertainty with her health condition.

Both she and Vazquez stress that the number of confirmed cases being displayed on the Erie County coronavirus heat map is grossly under representative of the actual cases in our area. The Erie County Health Commissioner and County Executive have both shared similar sentiments.

“Confirmed cases are making it look like it’s not that big of a deal in Erie County, but in reality, it’s probably three times that amount with the number of people that are being turned away without being tested.”