[Video] On the testing shortage: Help us help you

Published March 19, 2020

Kelly Cawcutt, MD, Nebraska Medicine infectious diseases expert.
View the list of questions addressed by Dr. Cawcutt in the video above. 

We have never faced a pandemic like this before, and we have never faced testing shortages like this before. 

This reality puts us all in an uncomfortable place. It means we need to work together with understanding, compassion and patience, so we can do the right thing for everyone.

Right now, at Nebraska Medicine, we are focusing on testing those who really need it:  

  • People who are sick enough to require hospital admission. We need to test our inpatients to make sure we understand what’s driving their illnesses, so we can treat them appropriately. And if it’s COVID-19, we want to be able to take those special precautions for them
  • We are also focusing on patients who are high risk. That group includes older patients and patients with significant comorbidities, including those who are immunocompromised
  • Finally, we are focusing on our health care workers who have symptoms, because we want everyone who can be on the front lines available to take care of patients

The COVID-19 testing process is complicated. Essentially, we have to take a swab from the back of the nose to collect the virus. Then we send that swab to the lab, where we extract the virus. To do that, we need several different chemicals, including something called reagent. Reagent is a substance used to create a chemical reaction. Reagents allow researchers to detect, measure, produce or change the sample collected with the swab. The COVID-19 test requires a number of chemical reagents, which makes the test more complicated to complete than simpler tests, like for strep throat.

We know there are people with mild symptoms who are concerned about infecting their loved ones. We want them to understand we need to first test the people who are high risk. We need the people who have mild symptoms to care for themselves at home. If you’re sick, stay home. Don’t interact with people. Don’t go to work. We want you to distance yourself, especially from those friends or family members who may be at higher risk for getting this infection. Please follow the recommendations and guidelines established. We simply don’t have capacity to test everyone right now.

We need the community to understand that we are doing our best to ramp up testing, but we are also triaging the tests as appropriately as we can for the good of the community overall. 

We know it is frustrating. We know it is anxiety provoking. But we are doing everything in our power to amplify our testing capabilities. Changes are happening day-by-day. 

To the community, we say thank you for your support. Thank you for social distancing, and thank you for doing your best to flatten the curve. We need everyone’s help to do this, and to do this well, for the sake of our community. 

Want to learn more about COVID-19?
In our COVID-19 community hub, our infectious diseases experts have answered common questions about the virus, including advice about what to do if you're asked to self-quarantine. Visit the community hub