Baptist Health Hardin announced Wednesday the health care provider was expanding COVID-19 testing in three counties including Nelson.
Patients must be referred by a health care provider or through the Baptist Health Hardin patient symptom hotline at (270) 979-7777.
In Bardstown, the tests will be administered at the Baptist Health Hardin Medical Group facility on East John Rowan Boulevard.
“Increased COVID-19 testing is a goal across the Commonwealth and the country,” Baptist Health Hardin Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Godfrey said in a press release. “Outpatient access to COVID-19 testing at strategically located Baptist Health Hardin facilities will help tremendously as do the video visits over 75 Baptist Health Hardin physicians and advanced practice clinicians now use to care for patients.”
Dr. Holly McCoy, a physician at the Bardstown Baptist Health Hardin office, said Wednesday the expanded testing was an important advancement. She said they started their COVID-19 clinic about five weeks ago.
“When we started the clinic, I had a total of 10 tests to use all week, and it was very difficult to not have the proper testing,” McCoy said. “We are still limited on testing, we get about 50 tests a week, but the real problem is knowing who to test.”
Patients experiencing respiratory difficulty can call the Baptist Health Hardin patient symptom hotline Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Screeners will field questions and direct patients to the appropriate level of care.
Hotline use should be limited to those experiencing symptoms or those with a loved one experiencing symptoms, such as a fever, cough or shortness of breath.
“The Baptist Health Hardin team is working hard to meet health care needs across our 10-county service area during this pandemic,” Godfrey said. “Increased testing is an important step to getting back to normal, and Baptist Health Hardin is doing our part.”
As of Tuesday, the Lincoln Trail District Health Department reported 67 confirmed cases in its coverage area, including 14 in Nelson County. It reported that 60 of those cases were either on home isolation or had been released from monitoring.
Increased testing capacity is one criterion the federal and state governments have set before they will lift their guidelines that have shut down some sectors of the economy in an effort to mitigate the spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus. That testing, along with capacity for contact tracing, is needed because once people start moving around and interacting more, health experts say there will be new infections.
“Normal going forward is not the same as normal going into this. When we start lifting restrictions, I want to be very clear, there will be more disease. More people will get infected. There is a counterbalancing need with people’s need to go on with life and people’s need to remain safe. We have recognized that all along,” Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Department for Public Health said in mid-April when discussing steps toward easing restrictions.
More, different testing needed
McCoy said the tests currently available only confirm whether a person has an active infection and is administered through a nasal swab of the back of a patient’s sinus cavity. They cannot determine whether someone has been previously infected.
“The best test that we can get, that is hopefully coming soon, is the antibody test, and that will be a prick of the finger and it will test for two different antibodies,” McCoy said.
Those tests should be able to tell if a person has an active infection or was previously infected.
“There are tests out there, we just don’t know if they are going to be FDA approved and legitimate enough to use,” McCoy said.
Kentucky faces an acute challenge with reaching a level of testing necessary to meet federal recommendations for lifting some of the restrictions on social distancing.
The Washington Post on Tuesday posted an article contrasting Kentucky with Rhode Island and the disparities between the level of testing each state has been able to reach.
Rhode Island has administered the same number of tests as Kentucky, but because Rhode Island has a population one-quarter of Kentucky’s, that means the New England state has tested 3.7 percent of residents while the Bluegrass has only tested 0.7 percent.
“The difference suggests Rhode Island probably has a better sense of the virus’s spread throughout the state, making it better prepared to curb it,” The Post reported.
The Post’s article focused on the approach the federal government has taken toward testing, with a 50-state approach that illustrates how some states are being left behind as they fend for themselves.
“This is what you get when you get a 50-state strategy on fighting a pandemic,” Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, told The Post. “Pandemics affect all of us equally. We don’t have a country where every state is supposed to be self-sufficient on all issues related to pandemic preparedness.”
In addition to only having 1 million people, Rhode Island also has a lot of health care relative to its size, The Post reported. It has 13 hospitals and is home to the corporate headquarters of the nation’s largest chain of pharmacies, CVS, which has accounted for 40 percent of that state’s testing.
Kentucky has limited its testing because of inadequate supplies. Figures reported by The Post list 33 percent of Kentucky’s 3,050 confirmed cases as needing hospitalization, with 17 percent needing intensive care. That would put Kentucky’s hospitalization and ICU rates among the highest in the country.
Those rates, though, could be overstated because there are probably many more people who have been infected who were not confirmed due to the limited testing.
Beshear recently announced an agreement with Kroger to provide drive-thru testing that he hopes will reach a level of 20,000 over the next five weeks.
But those tests will also be limited to front-line health care workers and residents experiencing symptoms.
Sarah Moyer, who directs the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, told The Post that broader-based testing will be the key to starting toward economic recovery.
“I wish we had more testing for essential workers right now. That’s where we would expand if we could,” Moyer said. “Going forward, we need to get that capacity up and going if we’re going to start to open up the economy.”
Kentucky Standard reporter Dennis George contributed to this report.