St. Luke’s Issues Guidance Due to Long Lines at COVID Test Sites

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Anderson Campus Trauma Center

Credit: St. Luke's University Health Network

St. Luke’s Anderson Campus is located in Bethlehem Township, Pa. It is one of 12 hospital centers St. Luke’s University Health Network operates in eastern Pennsylvania. (FILE PHOTO)

St. Luke’s University Health Network officials took the unusual step of issuing a news release titled “When NOT to Seek a COVID Test” Tuesday, due to what they said is increased demand for testing that is starting to overwhelm its testing sites.

As new case numbers have surged to near record levels due to the increasingly-dominant Omicron variant’s spread during the holiday season, network officials said they wanted to remind the public that a doctor’s order is required for COVID-19 tests at its testing sites.

“Currently, the lines and wait times at testing sites are hours long,” the release noted.

New cases are currently at a record level in Northampton County, where nearly 340 cases a day are being confirmed. That is approximately 55 more cases per day than were being confirmed a little over a year ago, during the pandemic’s second wave in December 2020.

When that number is weighed against the county’s population of roughly 310,000 to create a rolling seven-day average number of new cases per 100,000 residents, Northampton County currently has the fifth highest number of daily new cases in the state, according to data published on CovidActNow.org. Pennsylvania has 67 counties.

The county’s positive test rate for COVID is currently at 19.4 percent, which is the highest it has been since May 2020 and a sign that “most cases may go undetected,” according to CovidActNow. A positive test rate of 20 percent or higher is considered “critical.”

In seeking to alleviate the problems with wait times at its testing centers, St. Luke’s officials said individuals “who are symptomatic and have tested positive using an at-home test should NOT seek a second, confirmatory laboratory test from the Network.”

“An at-home test that produces a positive result in a symptomatic individual is considered highly accurate, so a second, laboratory test is not necessary to confirm the diagnosis,” the network’s news release said.

Officials also urged those who believe they have been exposed to Covid but remain symptom-free not to go to a St. Luke’s hospital emergency department or a St. Luke’s Care Now urgent care location for a Covid test just “to rule out infection.”

The testing at those locations is also not for individuals preparing to travel, they said.

“Our region is experiencing a surge in demand for testing because of the Omicron variant,” said Jeffrey Jahre, MD, St. Luke’s Senior Vice President of Medical & Academic Affairs and Section Chief Emeritus of Infectious Diseases, in the news release. “We ask for the public’s thoughtful cooperation to ensure our region’s health care resources are available and accessible in a timely manner to those patients with the greatest need.”

Individuals who develop a fever and symptoms such as a cough or difficulty breathing should call their primary care physician for advice, the release said. Patients without a doctor can call the St. Luke’s coronavirus hotline at 1-866-STLUKES (785-8537) option 7.

“Fully vaccinated and boosted individuals with mild non-progressive Covid symptoms such as a runny nose do not need to go to a hospital emergency department or urgent care center,” the release said. “Individuals experiencing more serious Covid symptoms such as difficulty breathing, sustained high fever, confusion or the inability to maintain adequate hydration should seek medical attention, and for such individuals a visit to a hospital emergency department or urgent care center may be appropriate.”

Jahre noted that people who go to a hospital emergency department or urgent care location for any type of treatment may experience longer wait times because of the ongoing surge in Covid-19 Omicron cases.

“We ask people to be respectful to our staff, who are working diligently under very challenging circumstances,” he said.

St. Luke’s operates 12 hospitals in east central Pennsylvania and western New Jersey.

According to new case numbers, Monroe County–which is home to a network hospital–is also currently reporting a record number of new cases. Carbon and Lehigh counties, which are home to multiple St. Luke’s hospitals, are now reporting near record caseloads.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health defines testing priorities for COVID according to four different tiers, with Tier One being the highest priority. Individuals who are hospitalized with COVID symptoms are included in Tier One.

For more information about when and where to get tested for COVID as well as testing costs visit the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website or call 1-877-PA-HEALTH.

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