The Mariposa Community Health Center sent multiple patient samples to a commercial lab for COVID-19 testing this week, as private companies began picking up more of the testing load across the country.

Speaking Thursday afternoon, shortly before the county’s first presumptive positive test was announced, Dr. Eladio Pereira, the health center’s chief medical officer, said that “we’ve done about three or four” tests, and that it would take approximately three or four days to receive the findings.

A representative of Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales was unable to provide any information about testing there.

Pereira noted that there’s a scarcity of tests across the country – a problem that has led to growing public consternation.

The issue began when the tests developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t initially work properly. Strict guidelines for who could be tested exacerbated the problem as well. In response, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relaxed its regulations and began allowing private labs to issue their own COVID-19 tests.

“The commercial labs are doing a little better, but still we’re not getting what we want,” Pereira said. “The labs making those nasal swabs are essentially sending them to areas of what they call ‘high patient impact’ – essentially the large cities.”

“The smaller communities are not getting as many,” he said.

Because they have to be selective about who receives their limited supply of tests, he said, MCHC is following a criteria established by the state.

Those guidelines include symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. In addition, they look to see if the person was exposed to someone who tested positive, and if they have recently traveled to an area with high numbers of cases.

He called it a “risk-based criteria.”

Pereira noted that while there are people who are asymptomatic – meaning they show no symptoms even while carrying the virus and potentially transmitting it to others — there are still not enough swabs to go around.

“I wish we could test everyone, but we don’t have enough tests,” he said.

If people think they meet the risk-based criteria for testing, they should contact their health provider rather than coming in to ask for the test, Pereira said.

“They should call first because we want to do the screening questions first,” he said, adding later: “We want to do everything we can to limit exposure to other people anywhere, whether it’s a local business or a doctor’s office.”

In the interest of limiting exposure, MCHC implemented changes such as positioning screening tables outside their local clinics, and telling people to postpone non-essential appointments.

“This is part of a nationwide effort to limit exposure to each other and comply with social distancing,” Pereira said.

“I think over time, testing will become more available,” Pereira added. “I can reassure the Nogales community that we’re in constant connection with our vendors to get more tests,” he said. “But man, everybody wants that test, so it’s hard to get it.”

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