Northwestern Medicine Kish doctor: how to get tested for COVID-19 and why isolation matters

How to get tested for coronavirus and why isolation, community cancellations are important

DeKALB – After seven new cases of COVID-19 were announced Thursday, local health officials are reiterating the urgency of getting adequate testing for public, to help prevent further person-to-person spread as cases arise north of the Chicago area.

"We've never seen anything like this, maybe since 1957 when they shut the schools down with the flu," said Bob Manam, an infectious disease specialist at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital. "We can see there's a change in the health officials within the last 24 to 48 hours, where they've really ramped it up. So they must be having some numbers of local sustained spread of infection."

Gov. JB Pritzker announced Thursday more cases in McHenry and Kane counties, which add to the total of 32 cases of coronavirus statewide. DeKalb County schools, events, organizations and government agencies inundated the news cycle Thursday with closures, cancellations and postponements, in an effort to deter in-person contact.

Manam said there's still an important step missing: providing enough testing kits for area hospitals to rule out coronavirus in patients who exhibit telling symptoms. Quest Diagnostic Labs announced today they've now been equipped with COVID-19 testing kits, Manam said. LabCorp Diagnostics will soon provide testing in Illinois as well, he said.

"These testing kits have to be provided to the hospitals or doctor's offices," Manam said. "Even today, if I wanted to get a test, I would not be able to. Today was the first day that I saw from Quest Labs. Likely in the next week or so those who need testing will get that."

The Illinois Department of Public Health has a testing lab, but Manam said the tests haven't been widely enough distributed so that area hospitals have access to them.

The tests themselves, spawned from a nasal swab which are sent in a contained package to the labs, don't take long to produce results, but the waiting game to be tested is the problem, he said. And in the interim, Manam said people should limit their contact with the outside world.

What if I get coronavirus?

If you test positive for it, chances are the virus will run its course, Manam said, but advised you maintain regular contact with your doctor, and said many may be able to heal at home.

"The majority of people will be fine," he said. "Everybody has to be following the guidelines through, making sure they're safe and their family is at home."

If you contract COVID-19, Manam said avoid elderly people or those who are immunocompromised.

When should I take the test and how do I get one?

If a person suspects they may have coronavirus, they're advised to not go into a local hospital or clinic and ask for a test, nor should they walk into an area Quest Lab for one, Manam said.

If you suspect you may have COVID-19 (symptoms include higher fever and persistent cough, but not runny nose which can come with the flu), you should contact your primary care physician who can instruct you on next steps. You can also call the Northwestern Medicine coronavirus hotline 312-47-COVID.

Manam said turn-around times to get a result are 24 hours through the IDPH lab or 72 hours for QuestLabs. While you await your test results, you should isolate yourself and limit as much human-to-human contact as possible.

The health department will help determine who you've been in contact with (usually those in your home, or co-workers) who should also then self-isolate.

"Doing this is not to spread panic but to slow this virus down so everybody does not get sick at one time," Manam said.

Though DeKalb County doesn't have any confirmed cases as of Thursday, he said hospital workers are operating with heightened arrangements because of it. If you experience a medical emergency unrelated to coronavirus, you shouldn't be afraid to seek medical attention at the hospital.

He said it's not an overreaction to stay away form public places, and people shouldn't view it as a minor inconvenience is events are canceled.

"Even 1% of a large number is too much for institutions to handle," he said. "We're not built for that at this time. This is something. You've never seen the government come down so strong. It's not the media. You're looking at expert health officials."