Since the coronavirus enveloped the country in uncertainty and anxiety, some of the biggest questions have centered on testing.

The guidelines for who should get tested have shifted multiple times as the virus has spread. Early on, President Trump and others said anyone who wanted a test could get a test, which wasn’t true and has become even less so.

Although testing has ramped up dramatically in Maine and across the country – including through private testing labs such as Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp – there remains a shortage of testing supplies, particularly of a chemical needed to conduct the test.

As of Monday, there were 107 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Maine and 2,791 negative tests. That’s up from 17 cases and 764 negatives one week earlier. There were many other tests whose results were pending, but the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention could not provide a number Monday.

In New York, which has become the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., there were 20,875 cases as of Monday among 78,289 individuals tested.

Because of testing shortages and guidelines for who should be tested, and because the incubation period is between two and 14 days, the number of coronavirus cases in Maine, and elsewhere, is certainly much higher.

What should I do if I have symptoms?

For most who contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, symptoms are fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat and muscle aches. If symptoms are mild and you don’t have any underlying health conditions, especially respiratory conditions, you should self-quarantine for at least two weeks or until symptoms subside.

Should I get tested?

According to Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah, the decision to test still rests with primary care physicians. Those who don’t have a primary doctor should contact an urgent care center and not visit in person without calling first.

Those who are asymptomatic do not need to be tested, said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer at MaineHealth.

People who develop symptoms and have traveled to a coronavirus hotspot or have come into contact with someone who tested positive should be tested. Additionally, those who develop symptoms and are over age 65 or have other health problems, especially respiratory problems, should be tested.

At his daily media briefing Monday, Shah also said the CDC is focusing on testing those who are in high-risk groups, such as those who are hospitalized or are at high risk of exposure, such as health care workers and first responders.

As with everything, there are exceptions. Many high-profile people, including several professional basketball players and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, have gotten tested even though they were not symptomatic.

My doctor said I shouldn’t get tested, but then my symptoms worsened. Should I ask again?

Some people have reported to the Press Herald that their doctor relented to ordering tests after a change in symptoms. Certainly, if symptoms worsen, people should continue to ask their primary care physician for guidance.

There remains a wide range of practices among doctors when deciding whether to order a test, but many are following CDC guidelines in order to prioritize testing supplies.

“We are trying to be judicious, even though the supply chain is improving,” Mills said.

What does a test consist of?

The standard test for COVID-19 is to collect a specimen using a nasal swab and mouth swab. This can be done fairly quickly, but the nasal swab is not pleasant. It’s essentially a giant Q-tip that has to go pretty far into the nasal cavity. The swab is then sealed and sent to a testing facility. In Maine, that’s either the CDC’s lab in Augusta or a lab in Scarborough run by MaineHealth, although private labs have begun testing as well.

Who is doing testing? Where? Are there private testing sites?

Tests can be done anywhere a doctor or health care professional has supplies because the samples are sent to labs. More recently, health care providers and some private companies have begun setting up mobile, or drive-thru, test sites. But people can’t just drive to a site and say, “Test me.” A doctor still has to authorize the test.

How long does it take to get test results?

Although testing early on took as little as 24 hours, many have reported that there are more significant delays now. Shah acknowledged Monday that there is a backlog of tests, largely because of the increase in testing. Test results for high-risk individuals are being turned around within 48 hours, but for others it could be several days.

“We fully acknowledge that this delay in getting test results is concerning, it’s anxiety-inducing and it’s frustrating,” he said. “I ask that you bear with us just a bit.”

Mills said the supply chain has been variable, from the personal protective equipment needed to conduct the tests to the nasal swabs.

What should I do while I’m waiting to get test results?

Anyone who is symptomatic should avoid contact with others. So if someone has been tested, they should be isolated while awaiting results. But Shah said Monday that everyone should get in the mindset that they might have the disease because it will make social distancing easier.

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