Primary care doctors in Virginia want more resources from state as demand for testing grows

Published: Jul. 9, 2020 at 7:59 AM EDT
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Dr. Sterling Ransone is a family physician in Deltaville and a current member of Virginia’s testing task force, a workgroup assembled in late April to boost the state’s once-sluggish COVID-19 test rates.

Twice now, in teleconferences, he’s heard what he described as “proclamations” from state officials on the number of days Virginia has gone without reported shortages of personal protective equipment.

“Quite honestly, that really concerns me,” Ransone said. “And each time, I’ve had to speak up, because the reason they’re not getting reported shortages of PPE is that we have been asked to reuse disposable equipment.”

Ransone has two N95 respirator masks, disinfected through one of the state’s Battelle decontamination systems, that he rotates throughout the week. At his office, surgical masks are reused unless they’re dirty or wet. Disposable gowns are gingerly removed and saved for future use.

That careful conservation is concerning to him when it comes to testing for COVID-19, a process that generally involves face-to-face contact with saliva, snot and other virus-bearing particulates. Ransone’s practice, owned by Riverside Health System, offers testing on a limited basis — Ransone said he’s issued 10 tests a day, which has been enough for him to keep up with current demand. But he worried about what will happen if the demand for tests surges in the coming weeks, both from a supply and safety perspective.

“If I can’t keep my staff safe, I can’t do testing,” he said. But in Deltaville, a town of just over 1,000 jutting into the Chesapeake Bay, he’s also a primary source for it. The closest hospital is 30 minutes away, Ransone said. The town doesn’t have a single testing location listed within a 50-mile radius, according to the state’s map of COVID-19 testing sites.

Virginia, like the rest of the country, has spent months fighting supply shortages in an effort to build a comprehensive network of COVID-19 testing sites. But despite gradually increasing its numbers (the state averaged more than 11,000 tests per day over the last week), many primary care physicians are still reporting difficulties in sourcing the basic supplies that make in-office testing possible. 

Dr. Sandy Chung, a Northern Virginia-based pediatrician and president of the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said protective equipment still remains an essential barrier, especially for independent practices that aren’t linked to a larger health system. “Practices are still reusing the same N95 mask that they’ve had for the last month, two months,” she added. “The places that do sell us PPE, it’s at three to five times the normal cost. So at the same time that practices have reduced revenue because of all the reduced visits, we’re being asked to pay extra.”


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