How important is testing for COVID-19?

I am inclined, as you know, to talk about diet as it relates to chronic diseases. That is the topic of my book, It’s All about the Food. In the COVID-19 world these would be the “underlying health conditions” characteristic of people hospitalized and dying. And there is a lot to say about that but not today.

Not today because nothing you do today will accomplish an immediate fix for conditions that have developed over time. Those conditions are definitely worthy of discussion when preparing for the next pandemic or wave two of this one. But not today.

Here I want to address the hot topic of the day – testing, or rather the lack of testing.

The first question is when do you personally need testing?

  • We don’t need testing to identify if we are “sick.” We know that by symptoms. Talk to your doctor about them.
  • We don’t need testing to know if someone needs to be in the hospital. For sure it will include those who are having fever and trouble breathing. The doctor will send you to the hospital.
  • If we are sick and not hospitalized, we don’t need testing to know we should be isolated away from the rest of the world, in bed, staying hydrated and waiting for our immune system to kick whatever it is that we have.
  • We don’t need testing to know that someone we live with has underlying health conditions and is vulnerable. If YOU are going into the public to work or shop, consider your house to be public as well and take public steps to protect that person.

We do need testing, however, if we have been around somebody with diagnosed COVID-19. Why? Because you and probably others have been exposed. And if you have it, you can be exposing others in turn even if you have no symptoms. The more exposed the greater the chance of infection and hospitalization.

So it must be apparent here that hospitalization is the issue.

There are simply not enough tests to test 340M Americans or 3M Arkansans. In a world of limited testing, the goal is to minimize hospitalizations and the inherent potential of death. The hospitals are not prepared for extraordinary load increases and you aren’t prepared to lose a loved one.

In Arkansas, about 7.5% of those tested have COVID-19. These are the people who either need to be isolated as they recover OR need to go to the hospital. In Arkansas about 80% of those positive will go on to recover with minimal symptoms.

As of April 1 in Arkansas 15% of those diagnosed positive required hospitalization. Two thirds of those admitted will recover and go home. The rest are in trouble.

So does testing negative mean I am safe?

If you are tested today and the test is negative, that means you do not have COVID-19 RIGHT NOW. In Montgomery County, Arkansas that is 7 people at the time of this writing.

That might not mean you are safe forever. Maybe you are just among the lucky who will never contract it. Maybe you have already had it, never had symptoms and recovered untreated.

Maybe it means you have never been exposed. But you could be exposed tomorrow and then in 4-14 days you might have symptoms and test positive. Or you might never have symptoms. Gets a little confusing for a person who just wants a definitive answer.

So if you can’t get a definitive answer, what does all this mean to you?

It means if you have underlying health problems you should be staying at home. It means if you get “sick” you need to isolate yourself and contact your doctor for direction. It means if you aren’t “sick” you still might be infected without symptoms.

It means in any case you personally should protect yourself by avoiding as much public contact as possible with people outside your home. It means protect others when in public by maintaining 6′ distance between you and anyone else. And it means wearing a mask in public to prevent accidentally shedding your virus to other, more vulnerable people. And wash your hands with soap and water ALOT.

Why else might testing be important?

Ongoing testing tells the health department where COVID-19 is spreading and helps them find/lessen spreading. It tells them where hospitalizations are happening over time and where hospital support is needed. All of this helps the state decide where and when more stringent rules and censures might be required to avoid social gatherings.

Testing results help the scientific research community find medications and other tactics to improve recovery. It helps researchers and scientist develop vaccines that will prevent future infections. All of these take time whether we like it or not.

In the meantime, none of us wants to be in the hospital or die before our time. Follow the guidelines.