Dr. Brent Blue said he will test area residents for the coronavirus even if they don’t fit the restrictive guidelines drawn up by public health officials.
“If you want to stop the spread of a virus where people are contagious 24 to 48 hours before they are symptomatic,” Blue said, “the only way to stop it is testing people who are not sick.”
In a March 27 Facebook post, Blue offered “on-demand testing” for anyone who wanted it. That flies in the face of Wyoming Department of Health recommendations, which say tests should be reserved for at-risk populations, such as people 65 and older, in nursing homes or with preexisting conditions that weaken their immune systems.
State epidemiologist Dr. Alexia Harrist said at a Friday press conference that supplies at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory were low, and that the lab would process tests only from people who fit the at-risk criteria. Earlier, the state was still running some tests from others, though it was prioritizing at-risk people.
That doesn’t affect Blue, who uses LabCorp, a private testing company. He can send it any tests from any patient.
“We are letting people make their decision on their own,” Blue said. “If people feel they’ve had contact with the virus, they can be tested.”
As of April 3, Blue’s clinic, Emerg-A-Care, had tested 156 people, with 46 results pending and 11 lab-confirmed positive cases. All of his employees have been tested, and his clinic closed for a weekend after the state Health Department reported two of his workers had the virus.
Blue tested negative, he said, and after the clinic was disinfected, he reopened.
Some false negatives have been reported in tests around the world, but Blue said there wasn’t much he could do in the face of that possibility.
People without symptoms can come to the clinic for a PCR nose swab test, which detects the presence of the virus. Blue also offers curbside testing, in which an employee comes to the patient’s car.
Those exhibiting symptoms are asked to stay home and assume they have the virus. If symptoms worsen, Blue said he tells them to go to the emergency room, as his clinic is not set up for critical care.
Public health recommendations are meant in part to save test kits and personal protective equipment in the event of a surge of COVID-19. Testing anyone who walks in the door could lead to a shortage of equipment.
Blue sees personal protective equipment as replaceable, though a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services watchdog report has found hospitals around the U.S. are short on the supplies they would need in the event of a surge.
For the most part, Blue follows other recommendations from state health officials. Wyoming Medical Society President Dr. David Wheeler said Monday that all health care providers should stop in-person visits. Blue’s Emerg-A-Care clinic is doing telehealth visits when it can, and he said it has stopped most routine care visits like physicals.
But emergency visits are still taking place, which he sees as unavoidable.
Though he’s complying with the spirit of the Wyoming Medical Society’s guidelines, Blue said, he expects the coronavirus outbreak might result in the cessation of most medical care.
“If you delay everybody’s routine care, there will be consequences,” he said. “If every woman delays their mammogram, some people will have a delay in a cancer diagnosis.”
That, along with mental health challenges posed by social distancing, is one reason Blue wants to test everyone he can. The more the community knows about the spread of the virus, he said, the better equipped it will be to make decisions on how to return to some sort of normalcy.