WRAL Investigates

Change in rules on who could be tested for coronavirus not widely publicized

Posted May 12, 2020 8:59 p.m. EDT
Updated May 15, 2020 10:34 p.m. EDT

— More than 200,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in North Carolina, but state officials didn't widely publicize a decision to relax the rules on who could be tested.

Early in the pandemic, state officials cut back on testing because of a lack of supplies and an increase in contact tracing. But officials changed that guidance on April 20.

The state was averaging around 2,300 tests completed a day at that time, and officials said they wanted to push that to 5,000 to 7,000 per day.

That same day, guidelines were eased to test more people. The state Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter to clinicians and labs across North Carolina to let them know that tests could be performed on any patient suspected of having COVID-19, the illness associated with the virus.

Previously, people had to have COVID-19 symptoms and test negative for flu before the state would perform a coronavirus test on them.

NCDHHS spokesperson Chris Mackey said, "The NC Department of Health and Human Services sends provider guidance on various topics regularly to clinicians, physicians, diagnostic laboratories, etc." She said the provider guidance was disseminated to agencies including CCNC, EMS, FQHCs, Health Plans, Hospital CEOs, Hospital Government Affairs, LME/MCOs, Local Health Departments, Medicaid Providers via NCTRACKS and Special Medicaid Bulletin, NC Academy of Family Physicians, NC AHEC, NC Athletics and Fitness Association of America, NC Board of Nursing, NC CHCA (Comm Health Ctr Assoc.), NC Dental Board, NC Family Medicine, NC Health Care Association, NC Healthcare Association, NC Medical Sociey, NC Nurses Association, NC OBGYN Society, NC Old North State Medical Society, NC Pediatric Society, NC Providers Council, NC Psychiatry Association, and NC Statewide Program for Infection Control and Epidemiology.

But the relaxed rules weren't communicated to the public directly until last Friday – almost three weeks later – when DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen mentioned expanded testing during the state's daily briefing on pandemic response.

"If you think you need a test for COVID-19, if you are having symptoms or have been, we want you to get that test whether you have symptoms or not," Cohen saidon Monday.

The DHHS website still listed the outdated guidelines until Monday, when it was updated to reflect the loosened testing restrictions.

When asked about the delay in informing the general public of the changed testing rules, Cohen said officials work to get the word out whenever there's a change in policy.

Gov. Roy Cooper said the DHHS website will soon have a daily list of free sites where people can be tested, as Walgreens, Walmart and Harris Teeter stores expand the availability of federally funded testing locations.

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