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Coronavirus In Seattle
caption: A nurse places a coronavirus testing kit into a bag on Thursday, March 12, 2020, at UW Medicine's drive-through testing clinic in Seattle.
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A nurse places a coronavirus testing kit into a bag on Thursday, March 12, 2020, at UW Medicine's drive-through testing clinic in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Harborview, UW medical centers to test all incoming patients for Covid-19

Starting Monday, all patients admitted to Harborview Medical Center, as well as the Montlake and Northwest campuses of UW Medical Center will be tested for Covid-19.

The new protocol is aimed at helping clinicians safely care for incoming patients by knowing their coronavirus status upon arrival. The hospitals previously only tested patients who exhibited symptoms of the disease.

"So what we're really trying to do is catch folks in that window period," said Dr. Chloe Bryson-Cahn, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

"When they're coming into the hospital, they're not symptomatic from Covid, but could potentially go on to develop symptoms in the next couple of days. And if we catch them ahead of time, we really have the opportunity to prevent any exposure to our staff here and any other patients," she continued.

UW Medicine says the policy change came about amid reports that asymptomatic patients have tested positive for the disease. Bryson-Cahn pointed to observations made by clinicians conducting tests at nursing homes and homeless shelters.

"And we are finding people who are asymptomatic, who have Covid in their nasopharynx when we swab them," she said. "What we don't know is who will go on to develop actual clinical symptoms, how much that contributed to spread, etcetera."

Bryson-Cahn added that hospital staff anticipate the number of positive test results for patients admitted for emergencies unrelated to the coronavirus will be "very low." If they're wrong however, protocols will be further adjusted.

The new testing procedures won't delay care for patients coming in for other medical needs, according to Bryson-Cahn. She added that the hospitals already have similar intake screening procedures in place for other infections, including MRSA.

The Covid-19 tests administered to asymptomatic patients are the same as ones given to those who do exhibit symptoms, consisting of a nasal swab. Harborview and UW medical centers currently have a same-day turnaround time for testing through the University of Washington's Virology Lab.