For the Sick, an agonizing wait for tests in Massachusetts – NBC Boston

Danni Aubain has cancer, so when she started feeling lousy late last month, she was particularly worried.

Aubain said the disease hit her like a ton of bricks. He had a 103-degree fever and a horrible, dry cough.

“I really couldn’t breathe,” he said, “and that’s scary for anyone undergoing chemotherapy.”

When seeking medical attention, Aubain said that both her oncologist and a Massachusetts General Hospital emergency room doctor pushed for her to be tested for COVID19, the new coronavirus disease that spreads worldwide.

But despite their recommendations, the response they got from state epidemiologists was that Aubain did not meet the test criteria.

“They called the Public Health Department and I was told that if I couldn’t name a person I knew had a positive test and that I hadn’t traveled outside the country, I couldn’t have been tested,” he said.

In response to NBC10 Boston’s questions, Mass. General said he cannot discuss the treatment of any patient.

But Aubain’s story is like so many others streamed to NBC10 Boston investigators in the past week by spectators across the state who have not been able to take a test. Many said they experienced symptoms of the disease, such as fever and shortness of breath. Like Aubain, some have also been seen by doctors who were convinced they need to be screened.

But with a shortage of test kits available in the state until the end of last week and with restrictive guidelines in place by the federal government, many said they were frustrated, scared and confused as to what to do next.

Federal officials are rapidly increasing the nation’s infrastructure to test COVID-19 this week after a series of missteps hampered the country’s ability to control the virus as it migrated from its epicenter in China to destinations around the world. As of Monday, there have been over 4,000 disease cases reported in the United States, which have so far seen over 70 deaths.

On Monday, health officials in Massachusetts announced that around 1,300 people were tested for the disease and 197 tested positive.

The state’s ability to test patients has increased significantly in the past few days when federal officials have granted Massachusetts clearance to begin testing the samples at the state’s public health laboratory, rather than sending them to a centralized, managed location. by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal officials also expanded their testing guidelines, offering doctors more discretion to order a test for the virus, and last week they shipped around 5,000 additional test kits to Massachusetts, easing local supply.

The CDC has also published new guidelines that allow doctors and nurses to subject a single nasal swab to tests, rather than a nasal swab and another sample from the patient’s throat. The change is expected to allow Massachusetts to double its testing capacity, bringing the number of tests conducted every day from 200 to 400, public health commissioner Monica Bharel said at a press conference on Sunday.

The Food and Drug Administration, which must approve the test sites, also granted permission at the end of last week to a couple of private companies – Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp – to begin testing samples collected from patients in Massachusetts. Massachusetts hospital labs are expected to launch their testing programs shortly.

“With more and more clinical labs in Massachusetts working to gain FDA approval, more online capabilities will also be available soon,” said Bharel on Sunday.

Federal officials say the United States is now on track to test thousands of patients a day for the virus after falling far behind other countries in its efforts to detect the virus.

Independent research cited by the CDC indicates that the United States had completed approximately 20,000 tests as of March 13. That number pales in comparison to the aggressive testing effort in South Korea, which has a much smaller population, but has tested around 15,000 people per day.

While the United States is ready to learn more about the extent of the pandemic soon, many in the Bay State who fear having contracted the disease say they believe the government has missed an important opportunity to help curb its spread.

“I have a couple of friends in my social circle who are experiencing flu-like symptoms and are just writing it as flu,” said Rita Czernewski, a Cantonese resident who had an unexplained illness a few weeks ago and was frustrated by her inability to get tested for the new coronavirus.

“We are just a little stuck,” he said. “The only thing we can do is just be careful.”

.

Massachusetts has planned a pandemic for years. Here is what is expected. – NBC Boston

Flatten the curve.

You have probably heard public health officials repeat this phrase as they announce major cancellations and closures related to the new coronavirus pandemic.

So what exactly does that mean? And what can you do to help?

The “curve” refers to exponential growth in new cases that could occur if the virus can spread uncontrollably in the community.

A sharp spike in COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, could bring a stream of new patients, many of whom would need intensive care. Experts say the scenario would have overwhelmed the health system, making it more difficult to make life-saving treatments for all sick people.

The director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, dr. Anthony Fauci explains social distancing and how it can help slow the spread of coronavirus in elderly and immunocompromised patients.

That’s why it’s imperative to stop the transmission of the virus and slow it down in the coming weeks, said Dr. Davidson Hamer, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Boston School of Public Health.

Even if the same number of people contract the virus, doctors and nurses will have a greater chance of saving lives if the cases spread over a longer period of time.

“If there is a big wave all at once, then hospitals could run out of beds, run out of negative pressure rooms,” he said. “You know, if there are many patients on fans, potentially even running out of fans.”

State leaders have yet to indicate what could be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts. In a press conference last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the state is now busy planning scenarios for “what could happen in Massachusetts.”

Governor Charlie Baker has announced that Massachusetts has established a command center for coronavirus response. Recognizing the empty shelves seen around Commonwealth food stores, he told people that there is no need to accumulate food.

The Massachusetts Hospital Association has forwarded NBC10 Boston’s questions to the Department of Public Health, which has not yet responded to requests for information on the state’s hospital capacity.

But previous state projections shed light on how serious a public health emergency in the Bay State can be.

In a 2006 flu pandemic preparedness plan, Massachusetts public health officials predicted that as many as 2 million people would fall ill following the emergence of a new respiratory disease.

Using the modeling developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state predicted that over 1 million people would have to be treated on an outpatient basis, based on the most likely scenario of how the pandemic would spread across the globe. state. The model predicted that over 80,000 people would have to be treated in a hospital and up to 20,000 could die, in part because the hospital system would be overwhelmed by a flood of cases.

As part of the preparation planning, public health officials in Massachusetts asked hospitals across the state to negotiate agreements to use other large facilities in their region, such as high schools and arsenals, such as so-called “alternative care sites”. The state plans to touch those facilities to treat patients with less severe cases of theoretical disease, allowing hospitals to focus only on the sickest patients.

Importantly, the new coronavirus that now plagues people around the world may not follow the same trajectory as that shown in the state’s projections. These numbers were based on the assumption that 30 percent of the population would contract the virus. This figure may be higher or lower as researchers collect more data on the virus causing COVID-19.

The president and vice president told the public that anyone who wants a test can get one, but dozens of people have contacted NBC10 Boston investigators to say it wasn’t their experience, including a chemotherapy patient.

Massachusetts’ population has also increased since the state made its forecasts, going from about 6.4 million in 2006 to about 6.9 million today.

Emergency measures put in place by Governor Charlie Baker and others could also mitigate the spike in the epidemic, Hamer said, drastically reducing the number of patients who need treatment simultaneously and potentially saving lives.

“If social distancing and personal hygiene and work at home and all these types of strategies don’t work and we have a very large number of cases in a short period of time, I think it could overwhelm the health care system,” he said.

.