Prevent Epidemics • March 27, 2020
If you’re in New York and you have some of the symptoms of COVID-19 such as cough and fever, I urge you not to get tested if those symptoms are only mild. Every non-essential test delays tests and uses scarce protective equipment needed for someone who is very sick. This means that soon healthcare workers may not have necessary safety equipment, including masks, to treat hospitalized patients.
On the other hand, if you are short of breath with cough and fever, definitely seek care, and do so safely. Call ahead. Cover your mouth and nose with a mask, scarf, bandana, or other piece of clothing.
Why not get tested if you have mild symptoms? Six reasons. If you’re only mildly ill and get tested:
1. You use up medical equipment and tests others need more.
2. You might infect others as you travel to and seek care.
3. If you don’t have the infection, you could get it in the process of traveling and getting tested, especially since health care gets less safe when more people are waiting for it — including people with only mild symptoms.
4. It’s not going to change what you should do: Stay home and isolate yourself. Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should be assumed to have it. The test result won’t change what you or your doctor do.
5. The test can be negative even if you have the virus, leading you to infect others if you don’t stay isolated.
6. Right now, testing positive won’t lead to useful action or meaningful data: The Health Department won’t be able to trace your contacts or confirm where you were infected because too many people are positive, and because this would not be as important in fighting COVID-19 at present than other urgent work, including preventing and stopping outbreaks in nursing homes and hospitals.