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Think You've Got COVID-19? With Tests In Short Supply, Prepare To Ride It Out At Home


Did you wake up this morning not feeling so great? Maybe a cough, a fever? It's hard not to think about the coronavirus, right? But until testing becomes more widely available, you might not get an answer. Public health officials say anyone with symptoms akin to the coronavirus should call their doctor but might be told to just stay at home and ride it out. Here's NPR's Maria Godoy.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Last Wednesday, Washington, D.C., resident Shapri LoMaglio returned from a nearly month-long trip across Italy, a country experiencing an explosive outbreak of coronavirus cases. Back in the U.S., airport signs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked travelers to call their doctor if they started feeling cold or flu symptoms. Then Sunday morning...

SHAPRI LOMAGLIO: I woke up feeling congested and - with a small cough.

GODOY: Her temperature was also slightly elevated.

LOMAGLIO: I wanted to do the responsible thing and call my health care provider and tell them where I had traveled to.

GODOY: But when she asked her doctor about getting tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, LoMaglio was told to call the CDC. After a 4 1/2 hour wait to speak with someone from the CDC hotline, the advice LoMaglio got was call your doctor.

LOMAGLIO: And I told her - I said, I feel like I'm in "Groundhog Day" (laughter).

GODOY: LoMaglio is now waiting to hear back from the D.C. Department of Health about whether she qualifies for a test. But she says her symptoms have now abated, and she thinks they were more likely due to seasonal allergies than the coronavirus. But she's decided to isolate herself from others as best she can just to be safe.

BRUCE AYLWARD: Your entire population has to understand exactly what the disease is, what the enemy is.

GODOY: Dr. Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization says it's important that everyone learn to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19.

AYLWARD: It's a high fever in 90% percent of cases, a dry cough in 70% of them. You also have to know what it is not. It's not the sniffles. It's not a runny nose. That can be a symptom, but that's rare.

GODOY: In an ideal world, people who have both these key symptoms would get tested right away. But even though testing capacity is increasing in the U.S., the demand for tests still outstrips the supply. Krutika Kuppalli is an infectious disease doctor and a fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. She says for now, people considered to be in more vulnerable groups are likely to get prioritized for testing.

KRUTIKA KUPPALLI: If I have a symptomatic individual that's 65 and has a chronic medical condition compared to a 20-year-old who has mild symptoms, I would probably be more inclined to test the older person.

GODOY: She says people who are immunocompromised and health care workers are also likely to get prioritized. The important thing for people who don't fall into these categories but do have symptoms is to take precautions not to spread whatever is making them sick.

KUPPALLI: So the one thing I keep telling people - you think you're sick enough to be tested for it, then you should not be going out in public.

GODOY: Kuppalli notes that 80% of coronavirus cases are considered mild, which means you should be prepared to ride it out at home like you would with other respiratory illnesses - with fever reducer, rest and plenty of fluids. Just keep your doctor informed of your symptoms to make sure you're not getting worse.

Maria Godoy, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ACORN'S "RETURN TO BLACKNESS (FOR GB)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.
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