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CDC broadens federal guidelines for coronavirus testing

BOSTON — New federal guidelines for testing of COVID-19 will drastically increase the number of patients who qualify.

When the viral outbreak was still in its early stages in the U.S., officials made it so only those who presented symptoms of the disease could be tested for coronavirus, but now, as growing fears and anxieties have a lot more people on edge, it’ll be easier to go get tested.

Coronavirus testing will now be offered with just a doctor’s approval - but that doesn’t mean you should rush to the closest urgent care.

Having mild symptoms doesn’t necessarily require getting tested for the virus, and it also doesn’t mean that every doctor will automatically test a patient for coronavirus right away - the CDC suggests ruling out other illnesses first.

Given its similarities to the flu, assuming that you have coronavirus at the first sneeze or cough is an overreaction, and doctors want to let people know there’s no reason to panic. In fact, the risk for coronavirus in Massachusetts is still very low.

“I think what we have to do now is we have to talk to our state labs and coordinate with them to make sure that they can handle the testing that we are advising and to also see what the approach is, in other words, are we going to first test for flu and the other respiratory viruses and wait to see if those are positive and then stop there or are we going to do all the testing at once where we test for the flu the other respiratory viruses and COVID-19 so I think we will have to collaborate with the state lab to see how we go forward with that," said South Shore Health Infectious Diseases Specialist Todd Ellerin.

Just because testing will be more broadly available, that doesn’t mean the state is prepared for everyone to rush to the doctor to get tested - getting tested before you present symptoms won’t minimize your chances of contracting the virus later on.

“What’s important to note is that most patients with COVID-19 have mild illness, more than 80% of the time it’s mild or symptoms may be asymptomatic,” said Ellerin. "At the same time, we are also trying to have a mitigation strategy where we are trying to prevent the spread so we do want to try and track as many cases as possible so we can isolate the patients who are symptomatic with COVID-19 and then potentially quarantine close contacts that are asymptomatic. So that combination, remember early identification, isolation and contact tracing is the best way that we can try to prevent the spread of this around the US.”

The availability of the tests is really the question moving forward. The CDC has allowed private labs and companies to make their own tests, but that process has only just started and it will take a while before they’re mass-produced and distributed.

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