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Coronavirus test delays felt by patients, hospital systems - News - The Columbus Dispatch


As Ohio is ramping up its ability to collect tests, some are being sent to the Ohio Department of Health for testing, while others are going to private companies.

Columbus HIV/AIDS activist Eddie Hamilton is ill and has been waiting since March 19 for results of a coronavirus test. At first, he was told he would have them before Monday. Then he was told it wouldn’t be until at least Friday — eight days after the test.

Hamilton, 57, who is HIV-positive and a two-time cancer survivor, can only sit at home with his “kennel cough,” manage his stubborn fever, wait and worry.

“It’s test-result anxiety,” Hamilton said. “I lived through this (stuff) in the ’90s.”

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He’s not alone, some central Ohio hospital systems say. While Ohio is ramping up its ability to collect tests, some are being sent to the Ohio Department of Health for testing, while others are going to private companies, such as LabCorp in Burlington, North Carolina, where Hamilton said his samples are being analyzed.

LabCorp and the state health department couldn’t be reached immediately for this story, but delays seem widespread.

“Due to the demand in testing, all hospitals in the region are experiencing a delay,” a spokeswoman for Mount Carmel Health System said Wednesday.

For OhioHealth providers, the average turnaround time for test results is 3 1/2 days, “but anywhere between three to five days is not out of the ordinary,” spokesman Mark Hopkins said in an email.

A negative consequence is that for patients in a hospital, staff members treating them have to burn through personal protective equipment because they don’t know whether the patient is infected. That’s happening against a backdrop of dire shortages of masks and gowns around the country.

“We are taking many steps to reduce visits into potential COVID-19 patient rooms, like putting IV pumps outside the door so they can be switched and controlled without going into the room,” Hopkins said in an email.

“Additionally, OhioHealth caregivers have begun utilizing telehealth technology in our 12 hospitals and in outpatient settings to conduct virtual clinical visits by doctors and nurses, significantly reducing the number of times a caregiver must go in a room, and also the number of sets of (personal protective equipment) they would have to use and then discard.”

Marti Leitch, spokeswoman for Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, said the situation is improving there.

“The longer time for results has to do with the volume of tests that are being done — all over, not just at Ohio State,” she said in an email. “The ability for a private lab company to increase its capacity involves many factors that take time and planning.

“The in-patient tests have a shorter turnaround time — they were sent to (the state health department) for processing, but our lab is now able to accommodate those tests,” Leitch said.

For Hamilton, his as-yet-unidentified illness has him rattled. He initially got sick Jan. 11; he thought it was the flu, but his symptoms improved.

Then, as Ohio’s March 17 primary election approached, Hamilton’s health began to sink again. That concerned him because he was running for a precinct slot on the Franklin County Democratic Central Committee, and he thought he’d need to at least go to polling places and talk to voters on Election Day.

“I’m very thankful to the governor (Mike DeWine) and Secretary of State Frank LaRose for extending the election,” Hamilton said.

He developed a 103-degree fever and a persistent cough, and, he said, “it feels like your body is weeping on the inside.” As a visual image, he likens his insides to the Pig-Pen character in the comic strip “Peanuts.”

For now, Hamilton said, he’s managing his fever with big, doctor-recommended doses of Tylenol.

After testing negative for flu, Hamilton was tested for the coronavirus because of his underlying conditions.

Meanwhile, state health officials are telling non-health-care workers who are not hospitalized that they won’t be tested — at least for now.

But as he awaits results, Hamilton must stay at home like most other people. That might well continue even if the results come back positive; a trip to a hospital might not follow.

“My red line for the ER is breathing issues,” he said. “This is scary. I think my HIV meds might be helping me.”

Hamilton said his situation is an indicator of the severity of the crisis.

“I’ve got one of the best medical-support systems you can have, and they’re telling me, ‘You’ve just got to ride it out,’” he said.

Tough as his situation might be, Hamilton had nothing but praise for the way DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, director of the state health department, are handling the crisis. That’s striking because Hamilton has been severely critical of the department over the way it handled assistance for HIV drugs.

“As much (criticism) as I’ve given ODH over the years, I’m their biggest fan at the moment,” he said. “That’s because of Dr. Amy Acton.”

mschladen@dispatch.com

@martyschladen

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