How to track a virus

The Thomas Jefferson Health Department conducts investigations of each local case of the coronavirus. PC: CDC The Thomas Jefferson Health Department conducts investigations of each local case of the coronavirus. PC: CDC

You can’t stop coughing and are running a fever. It’s becoming harder for you to breathe, and you can barely muster the energy to get out of bed. A glance at the CDC’s website confirms your greatest fear: You may have the coronavirus.

What happens from there? We spoke with Ta’Kindra Westbrook, a disease intervention specialist at the Thomas Jefferson Health Department, who explains the process step-by-step. (Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.)

C-VILLE: A person calls TJHD fearing he has the coronavirus. What happens next?

Ta’Kindra Westbrook: We try to provide them with as much information as possible. If they are concerned about their symptoms or think they’ve come in contact with someone with the virus and want to get tested, we refer them to their primary care provider, who can then evaluate their symptoms and order testing, if they feel it’s necessary. If they don’t have a PCP, we ask them to call a local urgent care. Due to CDC guidelines, individuals who’ve been exposed to the virus, but don’t have symptoms, are not prioritized for testing, and are advised to self-isolate for 14 days.

Where is the test sent? How long does it take to get the results?

It all depends on the primary care provider. They can send the test to a commercial lab, such as Labcorp. The results can take up to seven days. 

[Editor’s note: UVA has developed its own coronavirus test, which provides results in one to two days. To get it, a patient must be seen at or referred to UVA Health.]

What do people do while they are waiting to be tested, or for their results to come in?

They should continue to self-isolate and monitor their symptoms. If any changes occur, they should consult with their PCP and seek the necessary medical assistance. 

What happens if the test comes back positive?

The lab is reported to the health department. Once we receive it, we follow up with the primary care provider and collect any necessary medical information and history. A case investigator will then call the patient and do a thorough interview with them to find out who their contacts were during their time of incubation, and while they were out and about. 

Once we get the contacts’ information, we reach out to them and complete a risk assessment, which determines their exposure period to the original patient and if they have any symptoms of COVID-19. If they don’t have any, we ask them to isolate for 14 days from their last moment of contact with that original patient. But if they do have symptoms, or develop them while in isolation, we refer them for testing. 

If one of the contacts tests positive for the virus, we will collect additional information from their primary care provider, and re-interview them to learn about their movement and contacts.

How is the person treated for the virus? 

Again, it is up to their primary care provider. If they are experiencing mild symptoms, such as a cough or runny nose, they may be quarantined at home for approximately two weeks, during which their provider monitors their symptoms. If they have or develop severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, then they may need to be admitted to the hospital.

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tyler johnson
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That’s a good idea to go to an urgent care center if you don’t have a primary doctor. I recently moved, so I don’t have a primary doctor yet. I’ll have to go to an urgent care center if I get sick so I can make sure that I get better, or if I need to avoid getting other people sick.