Coronavirus screenings to improve over time

By Max Mwaniki, staff writer

Quarantines, lockdowns, closures, and new protocols put in place have changed everyone’s normal day to day lives ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Various buildings like hospitals, urgent cares, and healthcare centers have implemented screenings. With this system there are benefits and downfalls. Entering a building that requires screening becomes a task, and each person has to wait in a line to get screened. Along with that, mistakes, personal health risks, and equipment problems come into question. 

COVID-19 screening is a series of questions asked to someone about where they have been and how they have been feeling in the past 24 hours. The purpose of this is to ensure that someone lacks symptoms of the virus, and by entering the building that person will not infect and spread the virus to anyone else. These questions consist of where someone has been in the past 14 days and if they have been coughing, sneezing, have had nausea, and symptoms of COVID-19 as such. COVID testing is the actual physical test a person takes to see if you have COVID-19. COVID-19 screening does not mean you are COVID-19 free; if you pass COVID screening, then you are only less likely to have COVID-19. 

One thing during this entire process that is noted is the fact that it is time consuming. “Patients sometimes want the process to be fast and quick, but everything is taking longer than it would usually since you don’t know if the problem could range from a sore throat to COVID,” said Nurse Manager for St. Joseph Urgent Care Anne Mwaniki. Many people get impatient and problems occur that affect the overall time, speed, and safety of these COVID-19 protocols. “The whole goal is to not bring people with covid into the area and reduce all contact as much as possible.”

According to Mwaniki, when it comes to the actual process and responses to the screening questions, if the patient fails screening then they are not allowed in the building. They must be evaluated by curbside or by Telehealth, an online phone call or meeting with a doctor or a provider, where people go through the normal process in a healthcare building. Through this they give the provider all of their information, and if they need to come to the clinic for treatment it is done curbside. For curbside treatment, a patient will be swabbed, treated, and evaluated in their car. When it comes to equipment the providers must have a gown, mask, face shield eye protection, and gloves if they are to come in contact with a patient. With problems and expectations like time, one of the main personal risks is becoming too comfortable. At all times workers must keep up with equipment and protocols to ensure safety of themselves and the people around them.  

“If you know how to protect yourself, protect yourself. If somehow you make a mistake like not putting on your mask or full equipment and you take care of a patient or screen them. Then you are exposed. You have no idea who is sick or not,” said Mwaniki. 

 If a person does pass the screening then they are allowed in the building, and receive a sticker that shows that they have been screened and they are safe. Technologies being developed could solve many of these problems in the near future.

There are two types of COVID-19 tests people can receive: a viral test and an antibody test. A viral test is where a person gets tested to see if they currently have COVID-19 and are sick. An antibody test sees if a person has had COVID-19 before. 

Scientists and companies around the world are constantly brainstorming and coming up with potential solutions for COVID-19. NIH (National Institutes of Health) has recently put out information on their work with advances in COVID-19 testing technologies. NIH launched RADx (Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics), an initiative that focuses on rapid innovation towards development, commercialization, and implementation of COVID-19 technologies. Working together with companies like BARDA (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority), NIBIB (National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering), and many more to fund research dedicated to this cause. According to NIH, their latest group of testing technologies have been optimized and assessed for speed, accuracy, cost, and accessibility. 

Bruce J. Tromberg is the director of NIBIB and leads one of the four RADx testing technologies. The testing technology Tromberg is working on can produce results for viral COVID-19 tests in 15 minutes. If this were to be implemented in schools and healthcare facilities, it would speed the process of getting tested and waiting for results tremendously. It typically takes three to five days in order to get a test result back. If it took 15 minutes, treatment would be sped up by taking action on a viral case sooner. This is only one of the many programs and discoveries made by scientists around the world.

COVID-19 not only heavily affected places like healthcare buildings, but forced schools to close and make a quick turn to an online based form of learning, causing  many to wonder when they will be able to go back to campus for in person learning. Regarding the protocols and requirements that have to be implemented in school, Mwaniki said, “Screening is an absolute must.” Social distancing and temperature checks also ensure that students would not be allowed onto campus if they might have COVID-19. In the near future, schools could have technology that can solve these problems.

Because COVID-19 is easily spread, it is making schools that are usually crowded like high schools seem to have no chance of going back to campus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the main things for schools to do in order to reopen are promoting student behavior that reduces the spread of COVID-19, maintaining healthy environments and operations, and having preparations in place for the event of someone getting sick.  Various places have already put requirements in place like required masking in stores and screening before entering clinics and hospitals. Some schools have already taken these steps and re-opened. Schools in places like Denmark and Israel have reopened schools, requiring social distancing in classrooms and taking action when a case is reported. Many of these places that have reopened commemorate hygiene and masking in their communities to be able to reopen. Yet in many schools that reopen, cases skyrocket. According to The Washington Post and NPR, in France, Florida, and Israel, cases among students and kids have rapidly increased after their schools reopening.

As each day goes on in this pandemic, the world gets closer to a future where everyone can safely get screened and tested for COVID-19 and go back to what everyone calls normal. 

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