Lack of testing materials concern Philadelphia health commissioner Farley

The city's health commissioner, Thomas Farley, discussed on Tuesday the steps being taken with the surfacing of the first "presumptive positive" case of the coronavirus in Philadelphia. -- (PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE PHOTO/ABDUL SULAYMAN)

By Kimberly C. Roberts

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley continues to express concern over the lack of testing materials during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our testing availability is pretty much as it was before,” he said. “We’re still limited by the number of swabs that are available to collect the samples and by our laboratory capacity to run those samples.”

In light of the continued shortage, Farley felt it was important to reiterate who should be tested.

“We’re recommending it for people who are healthcare workers, or those over the age of 50 who have symptoms,” he said. “We’re not recommending it for people who don’t have symptoms. I know there’s a lot of interest in that. Here’s the reason why. The test only tells you if you have infection at that moment. It doesn’t tell you whether you’ve been exposed, it doesn’t tell you about your incubation period for this infection, So you may have a negative test today and have no symptoms, and then tomorrow, you may turn positive and not know it. So it may give you a false sense of security. We’re also not recommending the test for people who are otherwise young and healthy that may have classic symptoms of this infection, because it doesn’t change our clinical management. Most people that are infected are going to do fine without any specialized treatment. If anybody with this infection is having difficulty breathing, then they need to call their doctor, or go to a hospital emergency and get treatment for their symptoms for that complication of the illness, but the diagnosis isn’t going to change that at that point.”

Even so, Farley maintains that proper testing is essential in slowing and ultimately arresting the virus and stated, “During this time, when we don’t have enough collection swabs, and the laboratories can’t do enough testing, there’s a limit to how much testing is going to control this epidemic. That’s why we have so much emphasis on social distancing. When the number of cases goes down, and if the availability of testing goes up, then the testing can be more helpful in identifying cases.”

Kimberly C. Roberts is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.