CDC offers online triage for coronavirus testing

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.

A online bot nicknamed Clara is acting as triage for healthcare providers in the US as demand for coronavirus testing continues to surge.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is offering a “Coronavirus Self-checker” for people concerned they may have symptoms of the disease as it sweeps through the country.

As of Saturday night, a total of 323 people infected with the disease had died in the United States, with 25,740 cases confirmed.

The CDC says its bot is to help users make decisions about seeking appropriate medical care and “is not intended for the diagnosis or treatment of disease or other conditions, including COVID-19.”

The electronic guide introduces itself as “Clara” on the CDC’s website.

Clara asks a series of questions to establish the level of illness being experienced by the user or the person they are asking questions on behalf of, whether for example they are gasping for air or suffering from shortness of breath.

It also establishes their location within the US, whether they are in a long-term care facility and if they have been in contact with someone with COVID-19.

Recommendations range from calling 911 immediately to staying at home and calling their health care provider within 24 hors. Clara also points to the relevant state’s health department for further advice.

Shift in virus testing

The White House says more than 195,000 Americans have been tested for coronavirus so far, not including county hospitals or health care labs.

The US Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized the use of the first rapid diagnostic test that could detect coronavirus in about 45 minutes. The tests will begin shipping next week, according to a statement from the California-based company manufacturing the tests.

In a strategic shift, New York City and Los Angeles County health authorities recommended this week that health care providers avoid testing patients except in cases in which a test result would significantly change the course of treatment.

Guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Health, dated Thursday, said testing at public health labs would prioritize patients with symptoms, health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, paramedics and other high-risk patients. Others were encouraged to simply stay at home.

The recommendation reflects a “shifting from a strategy of case containment to slowing disease transmission and averting excess morbidity and mortality,” the guidance said.

Guidance from the New York Department of Health directed health care 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 and leading to a decreasing supply of swabs and viral transport media used to collect diagnostic specimens for COVID-19 testing,” the guidance read. “Testing may play a more significant role after the pandemic has peaked.”

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