How doctors are handling COVID-19 calls amid test shortage

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Samples are tested for COVID-19.
Mayo Clinic is conducting a drive-through process in Rochester, Minn., to collect COVID-19 specimens for testing earlier this month.
Courtesy of Mayo Clinic file

During a conference call Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz said the state has caught up on a backlog of COVID-19 samples. But he said a nationwide shortage of testing materials and of the personal protective equipment providers need to take samples means testing is still limited in the state.

The Health Department is only recommending testing for hospitalized patients, health care workers, their household members who show symptoms, and people who live in congregate living settings, such as assisted living facilities and prisons.

So, what are doctors telling people who aren’t in those settings but show symptoms?

“It's just heartbreaking that we're basically telling people over the phone or through various online portals that, ‘Yep, your symptoms sure sound consistent with COVID-19. But, you know, most the time it's very mild. Stay at home and take acetaminophen or Tylenol, push fluids, take it easy and let us know if things get worse,’” said Dr. Jon Hallberg, medical director of the University of Minnesota Physicians Mill City Clinic.

“That sounds harsh, and it is,” he said. “But it's this new reality that we're in right now.”

Hallberg said that, because clinics have canceled all nonurgent visits, it has freed up staff to call these patients for regular, proactive check-ins. Medical students and physicians are now calling people presumed to have COVID-19 twice a day to take down their temperature and breathing status. They can then refer patients whose vitals deteriorate to the emergency room.

Hallberg spoke with MPR News host Tom Crann about this and how his clinic is shifting to telemedicine. Hit play on the audio player above.

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