Some hard-hit areas restrict testing as coronavirus death toll grows in the US

Healthcare providers are overwhelmed with the potential influx of coronavirus patients compared to their resources on hand. CNN’s Sara Sidner talks to medical personnel around the country who are worried about their facility’s ability to respond to the pandemic.

As the coronavirus pandemic grows and more states order residents to stay home, officials are making a tough choice to only test high-risk patients and those who are severely ill.

The number of coronavirus deaths has surged to 323 in the United States as the virus tightens its grip, leading to fears of a widespread shortage of medical supplies.

Officials in hard-hit states such as New York and California are warning that panicked people are flooding hospitals for tests and health care facilities will run out of crucial items. The focus has shifted to avoiding broad testing to conserve rapidly dwindling resources such as masks, ventilators and intensive care beds.

In a strategic shift, authorities are recommending that health care providers avoid testing patients except in cases in which results would significantly change the course of treatment.

New York health officials issued guidance asking medical facilities to stop testing non-hospitalized patients in an effort to preserve medical supplies.

“At this point in the pandemic, demand for unnecessary testing is contributing to the rapidly diminishing supply of PPE (personal protective equipment) … ,” the guidance read. “Testing may play a more significant role after the pandemic has peaked.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said testing should prioritize hospitalized patients, people with compromised immunities, health care workers, seniors and other high-risk patients.

“Not every single person in the US needs to get tested,” said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “When you go in and get tested, you are consuming personal protective equipment, masks and gowns — those are high priority for the health care workers who are taking care of people who have coronavirus disease.”

A first weekend under restriction for millions

As the number of confirmed cases surpassed 25,000 nationwide and concerns over testing grow, states are ramping up efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

Millions of people in five states spent their first full weekend at home under new orders by their governors. California, New York, Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey have urged nonessential workers to stay home in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus and reduce stress on the health care system.

Newsom urged younger residents to avoid visiting beaches as Californians adjusted to their new normal. “(It’s) time to recognize it’s not only about the old folks, it’s about your impact in their lives. Don’t be selfish,” he said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also warned younger people of the risk after 54% of the more than 10,000 confirmed cases in the state were individuals between ages 18 and 49.

“You’re not Superman and you’re not Superwoman,” the governor said. “You can get this virus and you can transfer the virus and you can wind up hurting someone who you love.”

The most recent state to enact such a measure was New Jersey, where Gov. Phil Murphy announced a statewide order closing nonessential retail businesses and asking residents to stay home until further notice. The order went into effect at 9 p.m. ET Saturday.

“We know the virus spreads through person-to person contact,” the governor said. “The best way to prevent further exposure is to limit our public interactions to only the most essential purposes.”

Each state provides for certain exceptions, such as visiting grocery stories, pharmacies or healthcare facilities, among others.

“Every state will head this way,” CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem said. “People need to prepare themselves that this gets harder before this gets easier.”

Cases climb as more people are tested

Numbers have soared as testing became more available, with at least 25,740 confirmed cases as of Saturday evening.

More than 195,000 Americans have been tested, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters. That total does not include county hospitals or health care labs, the vice president said.

As the demand for tests grows, private companies are joining the government’s efforts to restock masks, ventilators and other supplies. The US Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of the first rapid diagnostic test that could detect the disease in approximately 45 minutes. The tests will start shipping this week, according to the California-based manufacturer.

Meanwhile, Pence and his wife tested negative Saturday after a staff member in his office tested positive.

Physician predicts staffing shortages

Health care workers and state leaders have sounded the alarm on medical supplies beginning to run short. Some medical experts are going a step further and adding staff shortages.

Staffing shortages will likely come even before equipment starts to run out, said Dr. David Hill, a pulmonary critical care physician and a spokesman for the American Lung Association.

“Part of it is just exhausting our personnel. Health care is complicated and people make mistakes when they’re overworked,” Hill said.

If health care workers get sick, “everything can fall apart very quickly,” says Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

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