Posted March 18, 2020
As they put up tents across the Lancaster County area, health systems have an important message for people who think they might have COVID-19: Please call first.
Mass testing isn’t possible at this point, so people have to be verbally screened first to make sure they meet testing criteria, which have changed over time and probably will again.
Dr. David J. Gasperack, vice president and regional medical director of WellSpan Medical Group, said people who were probably exposed but do not have symptoms will likely be asked to go home and self-isolate until any symptoms develop.
“The concern is that if you test too early, your test will come back negative, and then you'll have this false sense that you don’t have COVID-19,” he said.
U.S. health officials have said the majority of people who get COVID-19 are not expected to need hospital care and should recover at home while following instructions to avoid spreading the virus to anyone else. The big concern is that hospitals systems won’t be able to keep up with those who do need care.
Screenings and tent visits
Screenings include questions about whether the person has a fever, cough and shortness of breath or has been in contact with someone who had the virus.
People should go to the tents only if they’ve completed the screening and a doctor has ordered a COVID-19 test, the systems say.
Swabs required for the tests are then taken at the tents. Results follow later — within five days at LG Health and four at WellSpan, according to those systems.
Health systems’ protocol
- Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health: [Update March 19: Penn Medicine Coronavirus Hotline: If you have any questions about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 disease, please call our hotline at 267-785-8585.] Directing people use their virtual visit service — Penn Medicine on Demand — or call their family doctor’s office or to be screened and get a doctor’s order for a test. While registration and insurance information is collected at the testing site, no out-of-pocket costs are required.
- WellSpan Health: [Update March 19: "If you have a question related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and you don’t have a primary care doctor, WellSpan Health has set up a Coronavirus Information Hotline toll-free at (855) 851-3641. If you are concerned you or your loved one may have contracted coronavirus (COVID-19), you can call this phone line with questions daily from 8:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. This line is meant to provide general information about the coronavirus related to prevention, risk, screening and instructions on when to seek care.] Directing people to use their virtual visit service — WellSpan Online Urgent Care — or call their family doctor’s office or to be screened and get a doctor’s order for a test. WellSpan Health is waiving all out-of-pocket costs for anyone who needs COVID-19 testing or treatment during the coronavirus outbreak.
- Penn State Health: Directing people to its telehealth service — Penn State Health OnDemand — where it’s offering free virtual screenings for COVID-19. Normal fees and co-pays apply for other urgent care offered through the service.
- UPMC Pinnacle: Has said it’s working to open outpatient specimen sites in the area, but for now is doing limited specimen collection at its hospitals on a case-by-case basis. People are also urged to call ahead there, so proper screening can be done and safety preparations made.