How to Get Tested When the Hotlines are Ringing off the Hook

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entrance to Sparrow screening area

Gary Caldwell for ELi

The sign at the start of the drive-through screening.

Have you experienced the symptoms of COVID-19 and called the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) coronavirus hotline? If you did, chances are good that you hit a prerecorded message encouraging you to call back later due to the unprecedented volume of callers.

What should you do? ELi spoke to some of those in charge of overseeing our area’s screenings and tests to let you know what your options are.

Amanda Darche, who oversees media relations for the Ingham County Health Department, wants people to understand that only symptomatic people are receiving tests – but not all symptomatic people.

Although many would like to know if they are testing positive for COVID-19, the number of available tests is still limited. Often, tests are reserved for symptomatic people with specific risk factors, such as diabetes, lung disease, or heart disease.

Additionally, Darche explained that there is no cure or treatment for the actual disease, only for the symptoms.

Before you pursue a test, consider using this self-assessment tool from USC. If you want to understand more about why this self-test was created, check out this helpful article from USC’s Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.

Believe you do need a test given your personal circumstances? This document from the Ingham County Health Department explains more about local testing. Here is some more to consider if you believe you need a test.

The ideal (well-insured) situation

In this best-case scenario, you have health insurance and have established care with a primary care provider (PCP). In this case, contact your PCP and decide the best approach for your screening. Do not arrive unannounced. Your PCP will most likely opt to screen you over the phone or through a video chat service.

During your screening, you should mention symptoms that you are experiencing, risk factors including any underlying conditions, and possible exposures to those known to have COVID-19. Your PCP will then decide if you should be tested.

Even if you have multiple symptoms of COVID-19, your PCP may recommend that you manage your symptoms at home.

If your PCP believes that you should be tested, he or she will give you a referral. Testing is arranged by your PCP. For those who receive their medical care through Sparrow, you will most likely go to the drive-thru testing site at the St. Lawrence campus in Saginaw Street in Lansing.

Signs at East Lansing’s downtown CVS and Target stores make clear: no testing there.

While at your testing center, you will most likely be tested for the flu – ruling out other respiratory infections – and for COVID-19. Darche stated that how long you must wait for your results depends on where the test is being processed. It can take anywhere between two and 10 days.

What is covered by insurance?

That all depends on your personal situation. If you’re seeking testing through one of the local hospital systems, note that both Sparrow and McLaren list the insurance carriers that they accept on their websites.

Sparrow offers free video screenings. McLaren offers appointments for screenings and prescription-writing for $29. Anyone is welcome to use McLaren’s service, but if you do not have McLaren insurance, you will be billed directly, not through your insurance.

If you have insurance, consider checking to see if your insurance covers Teledoc services, which allows you to meet with a medical care provider via video chat or telephone. This is often the preferred method for screening patients to determine if they need tests, and some health insurance providers have recently begun to cover it in light of the pandemic.

For the uninsured, underinsured, and those without a primary care provider (PCP)

Those who have insurance but have no established care with a PCP have several options.

RediCare in Okemos is offering screenings and accepts self-pay and most forms of insurance (although it has some restrictions on Medicaid). You can make an appointment online or call 517-339-2100, ext. 0. Do not enter the building. Screenings will be conducted remotely.

Those with no PCP can also contact Ingham County Health Department at 517-887-4517 or Ingham Community Health Centers at 517-887-4302. Unlike most county health departments, Ingham sponsors several health clinics, offers some cost-sharing for those who have enrolled in a county plan, and charges fees on a sliding scale for the uninsured.

Darche emphasized that “payment and insurance status should never be a barrier to care.”

If you are concerned that you have contracted COVID-19 and are uninsured, the Ingham County Health Department will most likely have you complete a virtual screening through the Forest Community Health Center, and if you require a test, you will be given a referral for drive through testing.

Other considerations

Sparrow, McLaren, and Ingham County Health Department all were unable to provide us with price estimates, citing concerns over varying insurances and other variables. However, here are a few things to keep in mind: You will most likely have to pay for a screening, whether it is in-person, over the phone, or online. For those who are given a referral for a test, you will receive a test for the flu to rule out other respiratory infections. You will have to pay for this test, too.

While many cases of COVID-19 can be managed at home, if you experience shortness of breath or other life threatening symptoms, please call 911 or go to an emergency room. Sparrow’s representative explained that emergent cases do not need to call ahead.

At the hospital, all patients are triaged, and those with respiratory symptoms will be directed to a tent in the parking structure, where they will receive proper tests. Should they receive a COVID-19 test, Sparrow is often able to issue results to its patients in 4 hours. McLaren did not respond to our request for information.

Again, note that this document from the Ingham County Health Department explains more about local testing.

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi’s mailer to stay informed

Correction: This article was amended to correct the spelling of Amanda Darche’s surname and to correct information about who arranges testing (physicians, not the health department).

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