Wellspan Ephrata Covid19 Testing Tent

Employees at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital set up an outdoor patient screening and testing area for patients who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, Friday, March 13, 2020.

THE ISSUE

COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus, continues to dramatically alter U.S. life, including that in Lancaster County. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, Pennsylvania had 96 cases of the disease. On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered bars and restaurants to switch to takeout service only and called for a 14-day shutdown of nonessential businesses, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

We’re relieved that the Lancaster County commissioners, the City of Lancaster and the county court system declared emergencies Tuesday.

These emergency declarations will give the city and county more flexibility in responding to the COVID-19 crisis and may ease the flow of federal funding.

The judicial emergency declaration will allow the courts to carry out their most basic functions while suspending jury trials that would require people to work in far-too-close proximity. It also “allows a judge to prevent people from being evicted if the eviction is caused by this crisis,” Lancaster County President Judge David Ashworth explained.

Lancaster County lacks a public health department, which would have galvanized the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But there has been progress, and for that, we’re grateful.

Still, the slowness with which testing for COVID-19 is being rolled out continues to worry us.

We know we’re far from alone in this concern. Doctors and nurses working long hours in already busy hospitals are worried, too. They’re on the front lines of this crisis, and they still don’t know the extent of what they’re facing.

Some of them are isolating from their own families in order to continue working. Their heroic efforts should be repaid at the very least with the certainty that testing — for them, for their patients, for others in the community — would provide.

Lancaster County didn’t have a confirmed case of COVID-19, as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. But viruses don’t respect county borders. The lesson we’re learning — late, unfortunately — is that we need to stay ahead of the spread of this coronavirus.

According to The Associated Press, the state Department of Health “is working on a plan to open public testing sites for the coronavirus, as the state’s health systems and hospitals work to operate their own sample-taking sites and testing laboratories.”

As those public sites reportedly will be in Philadelphia and hard-hit Montgomery County, we’d like to see more outdoor testing sites established here.

There was good news on that front Tuesday evening.

As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Heather Stauffer reported, a drive-through testing site is to open today at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences on Greenfield Road. It will be staffed by Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. Patients will need a physician’s order to be swabbed for COVID-19.

It’s the second outdoor testing site in Lancaster County.

Before this latest effort — and we hope it won’t be the last — we were impressed by the relative speed with which WellSpan Health opened outdoor testing sites at its acute care hospitals, including the one in Ephrata.

WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital's screening and testing tent opened March 13 and began operating 24/7 Monday.

And as Stauffer reported, WellSpan pledged to waive all out-of-pocket costs for anyone who needs COVID-19 testing or treatment.

WellSpan will collect an individual’s insurance coverage information, but will not bill or collect any deductibles or any other payments for COVID-19 screening, testing and treatment. WellSpan also won’t charge individuals who lack health insurance for such testing and treatment. (We hope this also extends to individuals whose COVID-19 tests turn out to be negative.)

“We recognize the need for prompt care for anyone impacted by this crisis and we want to remove any barriers people may face to receiving testing or appropriate care,” Dr. R. Hal Baker, senior vice president of WellSpan Health, said in a statement.

That is exactly the kind of corporate responsibility that is needed during this crisis.

We'd like to see other health care providers — especially Lancaster General Health, the largest in Lancaster County — make the same commitment to patient cost coverage.

And soon.

The need to ramp up testing — and to assure people who ought to be tested that they won’t be penalized financially for getting tested — is imperative.

If someone has symptoms of COVID-19 and avoids being tested because he fears being saddled with a big bill, that’s bad for all of us.

“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out Monday. “We cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected.”

He added: “We have a simple message for all countries: Test, test, test. Test every suspected case.”

The Trump administration faltered in this regard. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Congress last week that the lack of widespread testing of Americans thus far “is a failing.” The U.S. has tested only a fraction of the number South Korea has.

There’s no point in denying it.

And every reason to make sure testing gets done in quicker and wider fashion, here and across the country.

On a related note: Letter writers in recent days have suggested that the former UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster — the old St. Joseph Hospital — be prepared in case COVID-19 cases exceed the capacity of Lancaster General Hospital. Dr. Joseph Kontra, chief of infectious diseases at LG Health, said last week that possibility was “being explored.

It would make a great deal of sense. We hope the now-vacant hospital can be prepped for service before it’s needed.