Healthcare, Latest News, State Government

Local health departments explain COVID-19 reporting, testing procedures in wake of Myrtle Beach cases

MORGANTOWN — When Gov. Jim Justice announced the news of the Preston County residents who tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from Myrtle Beach, S.C., he passed along the recommendation to “contact your local health department and be tested.”

The Preston and Monongalia County health departments both clarified on Thursday that the health departments don’t do the testing; they explained their roles in the process.

Preston County Health Officer Dr. Fred Conley said for those who’ve been to Myrtle, their first call should be the health department before contacting their provider or going to an urgent care.

The health department, he said, will set up a screening plan and monitoring program, and call them periodically to see how they are doing. The department wants to make sure they don’t immediately go back to their job or, if they are symptomatic, to make sure they get tested and not be out in the public. They should self-quarantine immediately.

logo for the Health Department of Preston County, WV

When they call, he said, the health department will ask about their exposure history and symptoms. The department will give the phone line for the Preston County drive-through testing site at the hospital in Kingwood. The resident will call that number, make an appointment, get the test and remain self-quarantined while awaiting results.

The health department needs to know their contact information and how they are doing before they call their provider, Conley said. In many cases, the provider may not be able to see them immediately. “We need to know that day.”

Appointments at the Preston drive-through site are generally same day or as early as possible the next day, he said, depending on the length of the appointment list.

Members of the general public who haven’t been to Myrtle but may have been exposed in another way and have symptoms or concerns can call the Preston COVID line directly at 304-329-7285 to get an appointment.

Mon County Health Department Public Information Officer Mary Wade Burnside said in an email exchange, “Although Monongalia County Health Department doesn’t do COVID-19 testing, our public health nurses and regional epidemiologist do conduct the disease investigations and contact tracing once someone is found to be positive. So individuals who do test positive, as well as their relevant contacts, can expect to hear from MCHD.

“If people have just returned from a trip from an area where there was a high incidence of COVID-19,” she said, “or they have been in contact with someone who has, or they have another reason to be concerned they might have COVID-19, they should remain in their homes, call the appropriate numbers to figure out a course of action and only go out to be tested or treated after the protocol has been laid out for their next steps. When they do go to get tested, they should wear a mask and maintain a social distance of six feet from others.”

Burnside cautioned that depending on when someone is infected and comes back, if they do have COVID, they might not test positive right away.

Mon County Health Department can give callers information, she said, but can’t give an order to be tested nor conduct a test. People who are concerned about COVID should call their health care provider, an urgent care or one of the hospitals to discuss their situation, get screened and set up an appointment if needed.

Local provider testing guidelines

The Dominion Post contacted Mon Health System, WVU Medicine and MedExpress for their guidelines on testing.

Mon Health spokeswoman Emily Gallagher said, “Patient safety is the highest priority for all Mon Health facilities. We have continuously adjusted our protocols to meet CDC and local guidelines.”

Their current protocol for COVID-19 testing, she said, is advising patients to contact their primary care physician for scheduling at one of their four drive-through testing locations at Mon Health Medical Center, Preston Memorial Hospital, Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital and Grafton Memorial Hospital.

For patients who need primary care services, she said, they can visit for all Mon Health locations and contact information across north-central West Virginia. Mon Health is also working with the Marion County Health Department to provide testing to the Marion County community.

Per federal guidelines, testing is no cost to the patient. Gallagher said drive-through tests are billed to insurance in compliance with the CARES Act.

A WVU Medicine spokesperson said, “We encourage anyone who has been to Myrtle Beach to follow the governor’s recommendation to contacting their local health department for guidance on potential exposure to COVID-19.”

While the cost of the test itself is covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the spokesperson said, the costs for visits to WVU Medicine Urgent Care and Primary Care clinics and the Emergency Department are not waived. Patients will still receive the standard bills for those visits. Those who usually pay copays will still do so. WVU Medicine has a financial assistance policy for those who qualify.

“In terms of our own employees,” the spokesperson said, “we do have a travel policy in place that lays out guidelines for quarantining and testing for those who return from high risk areas. We are monitoring the situation in Myrtle Beach and other potential hotspots in connection with our travel policy.”

For MedExpress, spokeswoman Annie Jamieson said in an email exchange, “MedExpress continues to offer COVID-19 testing in more than 22 centers throughout West Virginia, including our center on Maple Drive in Morgantown.” The Don Knotts Boulevard site is open to provide urgent care services and is directing those with COVID-related symptoms to Maple Drive for evaluation, and if necessary, testing.

Some MedExpress sites require patients to come inside and have directions posted on their doors, according to the MedExpress COVID-19 web page.

Many other MedExpress testing locations, including the Maple Drive site, are also completing COVID-19 testing from individuals’ cars, if needed, to further limit exposure, Jamieson said. “We continue to use CDC-based screening criteria to help determine patients’ testing needs. In the event that a patient is exhibiting symptoms or believes they have been exposed to the virus, we ask that they please call their local MedExpress center for screening.”

Asked about costs, Jamieson said MedExpress is not able to provide specific costs associated with lab processing fees for COVID-19 samples, as those payments are processed through their commercial lab partner. However, many health insurance companies have stated that they will cover the cost of testing for COVID-19. “We recommend that patients check with their insurance company to learn if it covers the test and what portion of treatment may be covered based on the specifics of their individual health plan.”

Jamieson said a visit to MedExpress includes a full examination by a licensed medical provider and may include other forms of testing or evaluation based on the patient’s symptoms and needs. Therefore, in addition to the cost of testing, patients may also be responsible for the cost of an examination.

MedExpress accepts most major insurances and offers reduced pricing for those without insurance, she said. “We also continue to coordinate with state and local health departments to help refer individuals to additional COVID resources in the community, as needed.”

Tweet David Beard @dbeardtdp Email