Coronavirus Latest: Testing Challenges And Protecting At-Risk Elderly

Short Wave


Hey everybody emily here so obviously. The biggest story in science is the corona virus and rising cases of its disease cove in nineteen. In the coming weeks. We're going to cover it a little more with regular updates on the latest news and science and today to help us do that. We are lucky to have not one but two colleagues from the NPR science desk correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce. Hainault Hi Emily and correspondent John Hamilton page on high so krona virus. It's already impacting American society. And you're each going to focus on one part of the Krona virus story this week. Now why do you got for us? So one of the things I've been thinking about a lot is who is most at risk of severe illness from this virus and while there's a lot we don't know about exactly how deadly it is overall. We do know there are some things that we need to do for the most at risk people to keep them safe yes and John. You're recently in Washington state in Seattle. Which is the site of one of the biggest outbreaks in the nation? Votes rate is where the first use case of corona virus appeared back in January. Now it has hundreds of cases dozens of deaths and no efforts to slow down. The Corona virus have have really largely. Shut down the entire Seattle area. It's not quite a ghost town but it's pretty quiet there all right so in this episode. We'll talk about all of that efforts to get tested for the virus up and running in Washington state amid the slow roll out of testing kits by the Federal Government. And how we can help people who might be the most vulnerable to the virus. Okay now before. We dive into some of the details from the week. What's the latest on the virus and it spread and I should say we're taping on Thursday morning and things are moving. Pretty fast they are they are. I mean just in the past twenty four hours. There have been some pretty dramatic developments and you can kind of feel a shift. In tone as the nation grapples with this president. Trump has this travel ban for visitors from Europe that he unveiled in an Oval Office address the NBA has suspended its season here in the US in Germany. You've got soccer leagues just playing to empty stadiums. Even Tom Hanks and his wife announced that they had corona virus. And so you can see as testing increases cases across the. Us are going up. There's this real sense that things are accelerating here and people are paying attention in a new way. Yeah and we should say that neither of US actually here in the studio with us right now. Yeah so I'm feeling sick with the kind of sickness that like normally you might sort of like you know take some cold drugs and go to work but like these days they say to stay home so I'm staying home will. I'm feeling fine but because I was around people who might have been exposed to the virus during the time I was reporting in Seattle I have been encouraged to stay home for a couple of weeks just to make sure I'm not contagious. So now I want to ask you. Oh I hear a dog. Yeah that would be. This is Bella. Bella Bella has been wanting to be on shortwave for most of my life. This was an opportunity and she sees did so John Yourself Quarantine Nell. You're keeping yourself home to make sure you don't get anyone sick. You're both so responsible. Thank you So John. We mentioned earlier that Seattle. It's the center of something called a community outbreak. There's a few of those right now in the US. Tell us what that means. All it really means is that the virus is spreading in the general population. Right so in Seattle you know the first case was brought in from China and then there were a bunch of cases related to a single nursing home but those are both sort of isolated. Now it's all over the place so while I was in Seattle. I saw the public health system stop focusing on tracing individual cases. Start looking at clusters of cases and they are also emphasizing community wide efforts to slow down the spread so that Seattle's response and hosts a little more of what it all looked like when you were there. He used to live in the Seattle area. And I never saw the traffic so light as I did the past ten days at rush hour on I five you know. It was a breeze and a couple of days ago I was. I was walking through Seattle's Chinatown the Pike Place Market. These are both big tourist areas and it was strangely quiet. A lot of the restaurants were closed. There were signs explaining that Kobe. Nineteen is the reason and I should also say people's behavior Seattle has changed You know they keep their distance. They wash their hands. I passed a couple of bars that were still open. And you could see people sitting there but it was every other barstool. Yeah our people trying to get tested for corona virus in Seattle. Yeah definitely I mean everybody wants to be tested in a whether the symptoms or not and the problem is it is really taken a while to set up the system to provide all that testing. And why is that? Well you know my my colleague. Richard Harris has been reporting on that and one reason he's found is that testing for the kroner virus. It's not that simple. You have to extract viruses from samples taken from patients. Then you have to use this device that creates lots of copies of the virus. Then you need another instrument that looks to see if the virus is a genetic match with the corona virus so this is something that is sophisticated lab can do but a doctor's office really can't and John. Why is testing so important with a couple of reasons is really important? It's how you pinpoint an outbreak. You need it for contact tracing because you have to know somebody has it to go and look for other people who might have got it from them and later on as as things spread it tells you which communities are getting infected that sort of the point where Seattle for instance is right now within Seattle. What areas is the virus showing up and finally it tells you what percentage of people who have symptoms actually have corona virus if percentage were to go up over time. It would tell you that you're not winning but the testing is what gives you clues that allows you to follow the spread phillies have a trail. You now what do you think about that? I think it's interesting. It's a different way of thinking about diagnostic testing than most people. Normally think about it. Like normally you feel sick you go to the doctor. And the reason you're getting a test is so the doctor can determine your treatment like maybe you have strep throat in that. Means you need antibiotics. But in this case we have no proven antiviral treatment against this new virus. We don't have vaccine. All the treatment is basically the same kind of supportive treatment you would give someone with another respiratory virus. So it's kind of weird situation. Where the testing that sort of everyone's clamoring for is really of most use for protecting the community and giving public health workers information about what they need to do on a community-wide basis rather than individual patient basis. Yeah and initially the CDC. It wasn't even permitting private labs and universities to do testing that dramatically reduced available capacity for testing. But that's changed recently right. It has and now certain labs so called high complexity labs are they are allowed to run their own tests. But that's not really actually the biggest problem. The biggest problem is setting up the system to collect samples for testing because they have to be sent in for a lab. You don't want people to sort of descend on some doctor's office or a clinic where they might spread the disease yet. You have to test a lot of people really quickly so one solution I saw. Seattle is What they call drive through testing. It's something that they used in Asia and the idea is that you can get tested for corona virus without leaving your car and I actually spent a morning watching this happen. I it was in one of these multilevel level. Parking lots you know next to a hospital in northwest Seattle. So the morning I was there a nurse named Jeff. Cates would walk up to each car. He was in full protective gear. You know with the disposable gown the Globes a clear plastic face mask and he would greet each person as they arrived by name. Jeff and then play health. Now we're going to be doing your swabs today. So he takes these these two swabs one from each nostril. Lean your head back with a little so you know he. He collects these samples and seals them up in plastic tubes and they will be processed by a lab. That's only a few miles away so we're going to be testing for flu. Ab IN SV when we're also testing for covert wriggles. Back to you as soon as we can. Thank you feel better soon now. Only healthcare workers are being tested his way right now but it's important because they're the people that are on the frontlines of fighting the virus and so you gotTa make sure they're not sick still they don't take the infection to other staff or patients in healthcare system. Also there has been talk of expanding this kind of drive through testing to for instance first responders who might have been in contact with somebody who had the virus and eventually even to

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