Tarrant County Public Health says Thursday their health lab can now test for COVID-19 (coronavirus).
Until now, tests for novel coronavirus had to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for testing.
Vinny Taneja, director of Tarrant County Public Health, says that means it would take several days to a week to obtain results. Being able to locally test means faster results, he said.
"Depending on when you received the sample at the lab, it could be same day turnaround or next day turnaround. That is very, very fast," according to Taneja.
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Tarrant County has received 800 test kits from the CDC and more are on the way. Taneja expects the TCPH lab will be able to process 50 to 100 tests per day by next week.
Tarrant County joins other labs across the state who now have local testing capability, including Dallas, Houston, El Paso and Lubbock.
The COVID-19 virus causes respiratory illness with fever and cough and may lead to bronchitis and severe pneumonia.
Symptoms are similar to the flu and include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever and a general feeling of being unwell. It is similar to the SARS and MERS coronaviruses. This is more common in people with cardiopulmonary disease and weakened immune systems.
Because there are currently a limited number of tests available, Taneja said they will be working with the CDC on who qualifies for testing.
"If you have the signs of severe illness where you have respiratory illness or pneumonia and things like that and have traveled to countries that have the outbreak brewing like China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, and Japan – then you definitely would qualify for that test," he explained. "Otherwise, if you have no known travel history and you have those severe respiratory symptoms and have been ruled out for the common flu, the common cold and many other respiratory viruses that circulate during the season – that’s when we will again consider you for a test."
Right now, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in North Texas. Overall, Taneja said he does not expect a widespread issue.
"Our hope is that most of these folks end up testing up negative and we don’t have a positive but reality is, we may -- at some point – end up having a positive as well," he said.
According to Taneja, there have been tests sent to the CDC that were negative. In Tarrant County, they are actively monitoring travelers and have no reason to believe they have missed any cases.
This week, officials with the JPS Health Network announced they successfully tested their coronavirus response. A patient recently returned to the Fort Worth area from overseas and was brought to JPS Health Network Tuesday morning, concerned about suspected symptoms of coronavirus.
Though the case was quickly determined to be a false alarm, JPS officials said it not until after their plans to respond to a potential outbreak in Tarrant County were tested in a real-life scenario.
“There is an opportunity to learn from this,” said Michael Hochberg, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer of JPS Health Network. “We can examine our reaction and consider if there are areas of our response we can improve.”