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Late last week Amelia Cason began to experience flulike symptoms. She started coughing and had a fever of 101 degrees.
Ordinarily this wouldn't have caused too much concern for Cason, a 40-year-old mother of three small children. But on Tuesday Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared the area of New Rochelle where Cason lives a containment zone because of a surge in cases of the new coronavirus, Covid-19.
The containment zone restricts large gatherings in schools, houses of worship and other facilities within about 3 square miles. It does not restrict people's ability to move freely.
"When they announced the containment zone, I thought, I should get tested so I can know for sure," Cason said.
She reached out to her doctor's office, which referred her to a White Plains Hospital hotline. The person who spoke to her asked if she had traveled to China or Iran and if she had contact with people who had traveled. Cason hadn't left Westchester County.
She said they also didn't ask her about places in New Rochelle that had been linked to the virus, such as Young Israel of New Rochelle, a synagogue where people who attended services became ill. Cason had never been there, however.
The hospital asked Cason about her symptoms, then referred her to the Westchester County Department of Health, which told her to speak to her doctor. "I got a 'Why are you calling us?' vibe from them," she said.
Cason, who works from home, was waiting to get a call back from White Plains Hospital on Wednesday afternoon.
"I'm not trying to consume services that I'm not entitled to," she said. "I think I might have coronavirus or be getting over coronavirus, but it's not worth banging my head against the wall to get a test."
White Plains Hospital said it set up the hotline to help identify potential Covid-19 cases in the community and has fielded 3,000 calls in its first week. Its screening process follows guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state Department of Health. It refers any person in need of immediate care to the Department of Health.
"Right now the state does not have the ability to test everyone who requests to be tested," a spokeswoman for the hospital said. "The governor has made it a priority to make more testing available, and we look forward to our physicians being able to order the tests directly to provide patients with timely, appropriate care."
A spokeswoman for the Westchester County executive's office said she couldn't comment on a particular person's experience and referred questions to the state Department of Health.
"The New York State Department of Health is working with the Westchester County Health Department to support the county and, given the magnitude of the current situation there, to come up with new guidance for testing," a spokeswoman for the state agency said.
Cason's frustration speaks to a broader concern that the public health system isn't increasing its testing capacity as quickly as people are getting sick. The Atlantic chronicled how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has overstated the speed with which it is making testing available across the U.S.
There have been 216 people diagnosed with Covid-19 in New York, including 121 in Westchester County and 52 in New York City, according to state data shared on Wednesday afternoon. The Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany, New York City Public Health Laboratory in Manhattan and Northwell Health Labs on Long Island are all conducting tests.
Northwell Health has set up a satellite testing facility in New Rochelle to make diagnostics available closer to the outbreak.
Cuomo said the state would contract with 28 private labs to increase its testing capacity, some of which have been approved by federal health authorities to process samples with the rest pending approval.
"We're continuing to prioritize ramping up testing capacity because the more people you identify as having the virus, the better you can contain it," he said in a statement.
Testing allows public health officials to determine who has Covid-19, and it helps them gauge the spectrum of severity of the disease and how it affects different types of people, said Dr. Robert Amler, dean of New York Medical College's School of Health Sciences and Practice and a former epidemiologist and chief medical officer within an agency of the CDC.
"This is a technological innovation," Amler said of the tests for Covid-19. "Like all technological innovations, there's a ramping up that takes place. It is natural to expect that any kind of new test is going to take a little while to perfect and take a little time to get production to full scale."