Virus Outbreak Colleges

University of Utah student Abigail Shull takes a rapid COVID-19 test in Salt Lake City on Nov. 18. As coronavirus cases are surging around the U.S., some colleges and universities are rethinking some of their plans for next semester.

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More and more eastern Idahoans are being infected with the novel coronavirus. But, when, where and how should you get tested?

Who can get tested?

Mostly people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 in eastern Idaho because there aren’t enough tests to test everyone who is exposed.

“There is a small fraction of asymptomatic people getting testing as required for travel. Some destinations require a negative … test prior to arrival,” said Dr. Barbara Nelson, the physician representative on eastern Idaho’s health board. But, she said, “I’m not aware of any business or schools routinely testing their employees or students.”

Nelson said most sites require a doctor’s order to get access to a coronavirus test. Doctors vary in their recommendations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outline three criteria for testing: People with COVID-19 symptoms, people exposed to an infected person for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period and people referred to testing by health care professionals.

According to Eastern Idaho Public Health, standard symptoms of the virus include:

n Fever or chills

n Cough

n Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

n Fatigue

n Muscle or body aches

n Headache

n New loss of taste or smell

n Sore throat

n Congestion or runny nose

n Nausea or vomiting

n Diarrhea

When should you get tested?

Not the day after you were first exposed, said Kenneth Krell, who leads the region’s largest intensive care unit at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

It takes between two to 14 days to show symptoms of COVID-19 after you become infected with the virus. But most of the 60% of people who become symptomatic will show symptoms within 4 to 5 days, according to the CDC.

“There’s no point in getting tested the day after exposure,” Krell said.

What test should you get?

Tests are broken into two camps. The more sensitive PCR tests can more accurately detect coronavirus infections. Results for those take three or more days, on average, to process in Eastern Idaho Public Health District.

Antigen tests, meanwhile, yield results much quicker — taking just hours or less — but around one in five people who have the virus could receive a false negative result.

Krell said if you receive a negative antigen test result, you should probably consider getting another test within a day or so.

Antibody tests cannot diagnose an active COVID-19 infection. They can only detect antibodies your body has produced in response to a previous possible infection to the coronavirus.

Even as cases have ballooned in eastern Idaho, surpassing over 200 new reported infections each day, coroanvirus tests have declined notably in recent weeks. More rapid antigen tests are being run here, the Post Register previously reported, but that doesn’t entirely offset the decline of PCR tests.

What a test result means?

That you tested positive for the virus. A negative test does not mean you don’t have the virus. It just means you didn’t have a high enough viral load to test positive for the virus at that time, which could change as the virus replicates and progresses.

“You don’t want to use a negative test to think you have eliminated COVID. You haven’t, as a clinical diagnosis,” Krell said. “So, you know, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a good probability that it is a duck.”

In other words, you’re not in the clear.

“A negative (test) after exposure doesn’t mean you are clear to go back into activity,” Nelson said. “You need to quarantine a full 14 days.”

Local testing resources in eastern Idaho:

Express Lab in Idaho Falls, Rexburg and Pocatello:

Requires a doctor’s order for PCR tests. Rapid tests are available for people “who are currently experiencing symptoms and are in the first 5 days of symptoms,” according to the company’s website. Drive-thru testing sites are open to provide tests without appointments between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Testing site locations are:

— Idaho Falls: 3908 Washington Parkway

— Pocatello: 550 Memorial Drive

— Rexburg: 100 S. Center Street

Idaho Falls Community Hospital:

Patients who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms can receive drive-thru testing at 3908 Washington Parkway in Idaho Falls. The hospital’s website says “If you are not showing any signs or symptoms for COVID-19, you do not need to be tested. It is important we save the tests for individuals who truly need them.”

Madison Memorial Hospital in Rexburg:

Requires a doctor’s order for PCR tests. Samples are shipped to Intermountain Healthcare in Utah. Results take between three and seven days, according to Madison Memorial Hospital’s website, but backlogged sample processing “means it will likely take about a week for you to receive your result.” Call 208-359-6900 with questions.

Bingham Memorial Hospital in Blackfoot, Idaho Falls and Pocatello:

Symptomatic patients should call ahead to receive diagnostic PCR or rapid antigen tests from their cars. Testing site locations are:

— Ammon Medical & Urgent Care: 3456 E. 17th Street, Suite 125. Call 208-529-2828

— Blackfoot: 1st Choice Urgent Care & Family Medicine at 1350 Parkway Drive. Call 208-782-2410

— Blackfoot: Bingham Memorial Emergency Room at 98 Poplar Street. Call 208-785-3813

— Pocatello: 1st Choice urgent Care at 1595 Bannock Highway. Call 208-239-6511

Free at-home tests through Albertsons:

Pharmacies for the large grocery chain in Idaho let patients to order free COVID-19 tests that can be taken at home. People can fill out an online questionnaire at scheduletest.com to request a saliva test, offered through state funding. They can be delivered at home or to your local Albertsons Pharmacy. Patients must send the sample back via next-day mail. Results can be delivered within 72 hours after the lab receives the sample.

Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls:

PCR and rapid antigen tests are conducted in the emergency room of the hospital at 3100 Channing Way, said spokeswoman Coleen Niemann.

Two groups of people can get tested, she said: A person who has symptoms of COVID-19 and seeks ER care, and people who have doctor’s orders to get tested. However, Niemann said, if someone has a doctor’s order but doesn’t need ER care, “we would recommend that they obtain the test at a physician’s office if it’s possible.” EIRMC physicians decide whether a patient should receive a PCR or rapid antigen test, she said.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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