What is it like to be tested for coronavirus in Charlotte?

What is it like to be tested for coronavirus in Charlotte?
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This story was last updated at 7:34 a.m. on Tuesday, March 17. We’ll update this as part of the Agenda’s ongoing coronavirus coverage. Any new information will added below and included in our daily newsletter.

Jeff Brokaw started feeling feverish and tired last week when he returned from a trip out of the country.

On the way back, he’d spent time in Seattle, a hotbed of coronavirus infection where more than 30 deaths have been related to the outbreak. Most of those deaths have been linked to a nursing facility in a Seattle suburb.

Brokaw’s symptoms, coupled with his recent travel history, were red flags to his doctor. She suspected he may have been exposed to COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus.

Problem is, there weren’t any tests available here when he needed one Thursday. So he went home and waited.

The next day, he got the call and went to an Atrium drive-thru test site in southwest Charlotte.

“It was easy. They asked a bunch of questions, took my nose swab, told me to go home and wait for a call tomorrow,” said Brokaw, 36, a local tech entrepreneur. He self-isolated, then began waiting again. The next day, he received a call with the COVID-19 test result: Negative.

coronavirus test

As is the case in many other areas in the country, Mecklenburg County residents can’t just request a coronavirus test from your doctor if you feel sick, or if you simply want to rule out a diagnosis.

A health-care provider first has to check for other illnesses, such as the flu, before ordering a coronavirus test. But when you do get one, it is a relatively quick and painless process.

“John,” a 26-year-old Charlotte man, started feeling feverish and achy on Saturday. (We’re using a pseudonym to protect his identity, since his results are pending.) His temperature fluctuated, ranging from 97 to 102 degrees throughout the day.

John’s girlfriend, who lives with him, drove him to the Novant Health urgent care facility on Kings Drive the next day. The doctor there first administered a flu test, which came back negative. Then the doctor conducted the coronavirus test, which consists of a quick swab in each nostril.

When he asked whether he should inform those he’s been around that he’s been tested, the doctor told him to hold off.

“They said ‘No, because your test isn’t positive. There’s a good chance it’s going to come back negative; most tests come back negative. There’s no need to cause hysteria and panic,'” John said of the doctor.

Instead, the doctor prescribed Tamiflu, and told John to isolate, rest, and stay hydrated. The whole process took about an hour. John paid his copay and nothing extra for the test.

The test results should be in by Wednesday, the doctor told John.

“Now it’s just a waiting game,” he said.

As of Monday morning, Mecklenburg County has seven known cases of the coronavirus. Another 259 people have been tested and are awaiting their results, county officials said in a press conference.

County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said the county has limited supplies from the state, but they’ve still been able to test everyone who needs it. Private companies like Atrium and Novant continue to do their own testing, Harris said. They are only required to report back their positive test results, though.

The county is selective when administering the tests, she said. Groups being tested include:

  • Patients in the hospital with unexplained respiratory symptoms or flu-like symptoms
  • Individuals who have come in contact with a known COVID-19 positive individual
  • Individuals who have traveled to “areas of concern” in the last three weeks
  • Immunocompromised individuals

“We are not testing just anyone. We are being very specific about who meets the criteria to be able to test the folks who most need it,” Harris said.

In a separate press conference Monday, Dr. Elizabeth Tilson of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said that the state lab has the supplies to test 1,300 people.

At Atrium Health, a provider must order coronavirus tests based on the patient’s symptoms and other criteria. Atrium has a number of mobile testing locations, but is not disclosing the locations of all of those sites.

“After patients have undergone a virtual visit … or spoken with a provider, and a testing need is determined, the patient is provided instructions on where to go for testing,” spokesman Dan Fogleman said.

Tryon Medical Partners, which spun off from Atrium in 2018, had its first COVID-19 positive case Monday morning in Charlotte. “We are glad to report that at this time, this patient is resting at home and doing well,” Tryon said in an email to patients.

At noon Tuesday, the group is opening a remote testing facility at 630 Matthews Township Parkway, in a former Rite Aid, WSOC’s Joe Bruno reported.

On weekdays, Novant has screening centers open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the following locations:

  • Two screening centers are open in Matthews (3330 Siskey Parkway) and in Winston-Salem (600 Highland Oaks)
  • Two more will open Wednesday, March 18, in Huntersville (16525 Holly Crest Lane, Suite 120) and in Kernersville (111 Gateway Center Drive)
  • All Novant Health-GoHealth Urgent Care Centers are also screening

Novant says that people without symptoms will not be tested and will be asked stay home.

“We understand the need to be judicious with supplies, including testing kits, to ensure resources are available to those who need them most,” Novant spokeswoman Megan Rivers said in an email. “Today, we are not concerned about our ability to do that.” 

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