PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the state, the Arizona Department of Health Services is adjusting its guidance to health care providers, particularly those in primary care, including discouraging COVID-19 tests for “most patients.”
Gov. Doug Ducey has issued an executive order to ensure hospitals in Arizona are prepared to handle more coronavirus cases.
“We are reaching out to Arizona primary care providers due to your continued work on the front lines of healthcare,” Dr. Cara Christ, the director of AZDHS, wrote in a letter dated March 25. “There are concerns that if primary care clinics close, it will overwhelm the emergency rooms and hospitals, and could potentially impact deaths far beyond those from COVID-19.”
Christ suggests doctors not test patients for COVID-19 and treat “patients with respiratory conditions as if they have COVID-19.” She said providers should keep working with vendors to get the tests, but “not depend on having test results for your management.”
“The current reality in Arizona and the rest of the country is that there are not available supplies to meet testing demand,” she wrote. “There is no specific treatment or management strategy [for COVID-19] and results should not change clinical management.”
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Another big item on the list for primary care providers is to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE). Doctors all over the country have raised concerns about extreme shortages of PPE, which ideally includes gloves, gowns, medical/surgical masks and face shields. Christ said the search is on for PPE that can be distributed to providers, “but current expectations for resupply are low.” That in mind, she is asking providers to “move towards reuse, extended use, and alternative sources of PPE.”
One of the suggestions on that front is not allowing medical and nursing students in care areas. That reduces the amount of PPE required, as well as limits the number of people potentially exposed to patients who might be infected with the coronavirus.
“Do not consider a medical/surgical mask as inferior to an N95 if not performing an aerosolized procedure,” Christ wrote, also sharing a CDC website showing how providers can extend the use of the PPE they already have. Christ suggested providers check with their vendors about “alternate forms of protection” and starting planning now for what to do when specific supplies are no longer available.
With the PPE shortage, Christ said testing for COVID-19 should not only be reduced but also that the process should happen outdoors “until PPE supply improves.” She also suggested using telemedicine to see as many patients as possible, thus removing the potential for spreading the virus.
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