Arizona primary care providers are being told to discourage COVID-19 testing for most patients and to expect protective gear shortages, according to new guidelines issued Wednesday by the Arizona Department of Health Services.
The guidelines, issued by AZDHS director Cara Christ, are the latest effort by the state to combat the coronavirus pandemic, with a real possibility that hospitals will soon be overwhelmed with patients.
The new guidelines inform doctors and nurses that they should treat patients with respiratory conditions as if they have COVID-19 because of a lack of testing supplies.
“The current reality in Arizona and the rest of the country is that there are not enough available supplies to meet testing demand,” the letter said. “Clinicians should consider removing this diagnostic ‘tool’ from their toolbox and managing patients with respiratory conditions as if they have COVID-19.”
The letter comes after Christ announced Wednesday that the department expects infections of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, to peak by mid-April and hospitalizations to peak by mid-May.
To avoid overwhelming hospitals, the letter tells doctors to inform patients who have mild respiratory symptoms to stay home, and to remain home for 72 hours or longer once their symptoms are resolved.
For patients who are eligible for COVID-19 testing, the letter advises primary care providers to test them outside the clinic in order to remove any threat of health care personnel or patients getting exposed to the virus.
Shortage of PPE to protect against COVID-19
The guidelines also tell doctors they shouldn’t expect a resupply of personal protective equipment (PPE) because of nationwide shortages. Health personnel across the country are asking for more gowns, surgical masks, gloves and N95 respirators to be able to face the pandemic.
But Christ said doctors and nurses should immediately plan for what to do when specific supplies are no longer available and to optimize the supplies they currently own.
“There are shortages, and we need to move towards reuse, extended use, and alternative sources of PPE,” the letter said.
Arizona has already received some PPE items from the national stockpile, but is seeking more.
Nonessential healthcare personnel, such as medical and nursing students, are also being told to refrain from entering the care area to reduce the amount of PPE used, and to limit individuals from being potentially exposed.
Christ also suggested that doctors should see as many patients as possible through telemedicine to limit the possible exposure to the virus.
Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order Thursday that aims to increase the number of available hospital beds in the state by 50% in the next month weeks.
As of Thursday, there are 508 coronavirus cases in Arizona resulting in 8 deaths. The level of community spread also elevated from “moderate” to “widespread.”
Nationwide, there are 68,440 total cases resulting in 994 deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.