Coronavirus testing underway at Cleveland Clinic; hospital not charging patients for tests

Coronavirus
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CLEVELAND (WJW) - Local hospitals are taking new steps amid coronavirus, including starting their own testing to provide results within hours instead of days.

The Cleveland Clinic announced it began testing patients internally on Thursday. 

It has the capacity to test about 500 samples per day and that is expected to double by late next week, according to Chairman of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Dr. Brian Rubin. Capacity could increase with additional equipment and testing automation. 

"We didn't invent a new test," Rubin said. "We're using an assay developed by the CDC, but we brought it online locally so we can serve our patients faster. And we will be working around the clock until further notice testing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week here." 

Rubin said the tests provide results in about eight hours, compared with a three to four-day wait for results from outside labs, such as LabCorp. 

Meanwhile, University Hospitals said it expects to begin testing at its facilities by early next week. Right now, it's sending tests to the Ohio Department of Health's lab or to LabCorp.

"It would make it easier to communicate with our clinicians and have the test available quickly here on-site and, ideally, would expand our capacity to test more patients who are sick and need testing in a faster time," said Dr. Christine Schmotzer, University Hospitals Chief of Division of Clinical Pathology.

As of Thursday, the Ohio Department of Health reports only 87 people have been tested for coronavirus statewide, including 29 through the Cleveland Clinic and about a dozen from University Hospitals.

Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Tomislav Mihaljevic said only patients with symptoms, such as dry cough and fever, are being tested for coronavirus. Patients are being screened, questioned and first given tests for other respiratory viruses such as flu and RSV. Those who test negative are then tested for coronavirus.

Mihaljevic said the Clinic is not charging co-pays for coronavirus tests and not charging those without insurance. It is only billing insurance companies for testing.

He said plans are underway to begin drive-through testing within the next couple of days.

Chief of Medical Operations Dr. Robert Wyllie said the health system is currently well-supplied, with 550 respiratory ventilators and the potential capacity for 3,200 hospital beds if elective surgeries are stopped. The system typically uses 100 to 130 ventilators per day, Wyllie said. 

"This is really new territory for all of us, and we don't know what's going to happen," Rubin said. "We hope that we're intervening early enough in this epidemic that we can squelch it and not need as many tests and supplies and so forth, but the reality is we don't know." 

Wyllie announced the Clinic also plans to start screening people at entrances to all hospitals and healthcare facilities, questioning them about illness and travel and referring some for evaluation. 

He said the Clinic will also limit visiting hours to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. with a daily limit of two visitors per patient, except for patients at end of life. 

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