Feeling icky? New Mexico health officials want anyone experiencing coronavirus symptoms such as cough, fever or shortness of breath to immediately call the state COVID-19 hotline or their doctor to get screened remotely.
People determined to be at risk of having contracted the virus will immediately be referred for a swab test.
But not every headache or runny nose is cause for alarm. For people who call in with these kinds of symptoms, the advice is quite mundane: Stay home, take care of yourself and avoid the elderly or immunocompromised. Call back if things get worse.
David Morgan, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health, tells SFR by email that claims circulating on the internet of the state running out of tests are false and that "testing supplies remain sufficient for demand."
Morgan says the state is conducting a few hundred tests a day and is looking to increase capacity by establishing 24-hour shifts for some test sites.
However, the state is still focusing its efforts on testing people with symptoms of respiratory infection and a fever of 100.4 degrees and above in order to not waste precious time.
"This is allergy season, and allergy symptoms such as sneezing or itchy eyes, nose or throat do not indicate a need for testing," reads a Tuesday news release from the Health Department. "While the state is gratified that COVID-19 testing is increasingly available, we need to prioritize testing for persons with symptoms of COVID-19 infection—fever, cough, or shortness of breath."
On Saturday, Presbyterian's Santa Fe Medical Center began offering a drive-up COVID-19 screening behind the main building from 11 am to 7 pm. At about 3 pm Tuesday, a line of at least two dozen cars snaked down the road and around the parking lot as people waited to get tested.
A medical worker wearing a mask and gloves stopped at each vehicle to ask the passengers about their symptoms before sending them to a nurse for a swab.
One woman who showed up in hopes of getting tested tells SFR she had a fever and cough earlier in the week but is now feeling fine. She says she was turned away by medical workers and told they are only testing people with active symptoms.
Presbyterian Healthcare Services launched its own free online screening service Tuesday that can be accessed via phone and video chat to help individuals who are feeling sick determine whether they need to take a test.
A Presbyterian spokeswoman tells SFR the hospital would prefer patients get screened through its own service or by nurses on the state hotline before showing up; however, many in the line had not been screened.
Christus St. Vincent hospital also opened a drive-up testing site for patients with a referral from a doctor or from DOH.
Patients are asked to stay in their cars while a nurse administers the test, hospital spokesman Arturo Delgado writes in an email to SFR, stressing that "You MUST have that referral to have a specimen collected for testing."
It is unclear whether a referral from the Presbyterian screening service will be accepted at Christus, says Delgado.
The Health Department has performed 1,272 tests as of Tuesday afternoon; 23 people have tested positive for the highly contagious virus. Read more of SFR's COVID-19 reporting here.