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Dr. Natalie Azar shares story about struggles to get patient tested for coronavirus

Azar's attempt to get her patient tested came as a top public health official admitted that America is failing to meet capacity for coronavirus testing.
/ Source: TODAY

On the same day that a top public health official acknowledged that America is failing to meet the capacity for coronavirus testing, Dr. Natalie Azar experienced that frustration firsthand.

The NBC News medical contributor spoke on MSNBC Thursday about her inability to get a patient tested for COVID-19, which she expanded on during the 3rd hour of TODAY Friday.

"I just tried to get a patient tested an hour ago, and I couldn't in my outpatient office,'' she said on MSNBC. "The only place that we're currently doing it is in the emergency department, and they don't have enough."

"They said we can only do it if the patient is sick enough to require hospitalization, and I was dumbfounded," she elaborated.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a House hearing about coronavirus testing on Thursday that "the system is not really geared to what we need right now."

"That is a failing,'' he continued. "Let's admit it. The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we're not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes. But we're not."

Azar said this was the first patient she wanted to test and was advised that unless the person was sick enough to be hospitalized, the test could not be performed. She said on TODAY Friday that "possibly we will have some outpatient capacity hopefully by today and, fingers crossed, by next week."

Commercial testing facilities like LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics have begun conducting tests, but only if doctors swab patients and send it to them, according to Azar.

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"What's so frustrating about this is that literally I'm gathering information as I go, as opposed to having it all up and running,'' Azar said. "It's not for lack of preparation on the hospitals' part, it's just we don't have the tests."

Azar is also hoping for more data on the progression of the illness.

"We're getting information about the clinical course of COVID in a lot of folks, in that many people start off very mild, but then can progress to more severe illness after one week,'' she said. "So I want to know who those people are on day three or four so I can keep an eye on the ones who I'm more worried about."

The coronavirus pandemic has caused disruption across American life, from school closings to sports leagues to television shows.

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Azar believes that "in all likelihood" there are thousands more people with coronavirus than have been reported.

"I think most people are under the assumption that the numbers that we are testing woefully underrepresent the true number of cases in this country,'' she said.

She urged anyone not feeling well to first contact their doctor via telephone or virtual urgent care.

"That's again to avoid that unnecessary exposure of people who might be contagious to other patients and other health care workers,'' she said.

Azar also recommended any parents worried about their children and coronavirus should check with the American Academy of Pediatrics for the latest guidance.