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Testing sites for COVID-19 open as pandemic evolves

Several testing locations for COVID-19 are operating or are prepared to be in the area, but medical professionals at these places said a primary care physician needs to give a test order.

Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, UPMC, Evangelical Community Hospital and Family Practice Centers are either prepared or have started to test patients for COVID-19, according to these medical center spokespersons.

“If you were to be symptomatic, call the primary care provider first and they will help walk patients through and find them a location to test,” said Marc Stempka, a spokesman for Geisinger Medical Center. “Unless it is a critical situation, the primary care physicians can direct patients to the locations for testing. There isn’t anywhere in our system to show up and say, ‘I want to take a COVID-19 test.’ “

UPMC is going to soon have a local testing site, said Amber Depew, a hospital spokeswoman. UPMC will open specimen collection facilities in Harrisburg, Erie, Williamsport and Altoona at an as-yet undetermined date, according to Dr. Graham Snyder, UPMC medical director of infection, prevention and hospital epidemiology.

“COVID-19 tests for symptomatic patients are getting done for patients of Family Practice Center in Williamsport, Selinsgrove and Enola,” according to its officials.

Evangelical Community Hospital is asking patients to have an order from their primary care provider and a photo identification when they arrive to a site at Plaza 15, Lewisburg, behind the McCann School of Business, which is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, said Deanna L. Hollenbach, an Evangelical Hospital spokeswoman.

As of Friday, four individuals were hospitalized for the infection and were tested with symptoms referred by family doctors in Pittsburgh locations, Snyder said.

In a teleconference with reporters Friday, Snyder was joined by UPMC Drs. John Williams, chief of the hospital’s pediatric diseases and infections, and Donald Yealy, chair of emergency medicine, to discuss the infection and what the hospital system was doing to manage care.

“Positive results for the infection remain low,” Snyder said. “Epidemics are not a homogenous front,” Yealy said. “The situation is fluid and dynamic. There are areas of calm and turbulence. We’re not Northern Italy and Wuhan, China.”

Centers for Disease Control guidelines are following, with social distancing and other precautions urged, such as repeatedly washing hands with soap and water and keeping hands off of the face.

“It is the best time to keep up social distances to have the greatest impact on the spread and to flatten the curve of the pandemic,” Yealy said. “We’re gauging needs of patients and rapidly adjusting services and plans based on science and facts,” he said.

UPMC, meanwhile, has 5,500 beds, 750 intensive care staffed beds — all in preparation to minimize impact on patient care, Snyder said. The medical system has collected 80 specimens to test for the disease and expects that to increase. It takes eight to 12 hours to get a result for a patient, Snyder said.

Williams said the tests can be for adults and children with symptoms. Thus far, there has not been evidence of widespread community transmission but the virus is highly communicable.

“This is the best time to keep social distancing, flatten the curve of the pandemic and care for those who may become critically ill,” Williams said.

The doctors said they want to ease anxiety of patients and provide effective and safe care.

“Our job is to take care of patients and keep health care workers safe when we do that,” Yealy said.

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