Local doctor says she’s struggling to decide who to test for COVID-19 due to scarce resources

With the shortage of personal protective equipment including masks and gowns for health care workers, and the scarcity of testing supplies to diagnose COVID-19, doctors across Central Florida and the rest of the country have to be picky about who and how to test.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray spoke to a primary care doctor about the rush to find, and conserve, those resources.

Dr. Nibha Mediratta has been testing patients for COVID-19 for a few weeks with the help of private labs, but the criteria she’s using to determine who gets those tests goes beyond their symptoms.

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Outside her practice today, Channel 9 spotted a courier picking up swabs from patients, waiting for lab results to determine whether they have coronavirus.

“We’ve been struggling with the choice of who to do it on, and I’ve been trying to follow the CDC recommendations,” Mediratta said.

Channel 9 spoke to the doctor in her parking lot, which is where those tests are administered in an effort to limit exposure to her office and other patients. She said the test swabs have been difficult to procure.

“We were mailed about eight or nine tubes and swabs a few weeks ago, and since then, that’s all we’ve had,” Mediratta said. “We’ve been calling every day to get more.”

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Ten more tubes and swabs are en route to her office, where she says she’s had to prioritize not just on patient symptoms, but also on their profession, age and whether they have a condition that makes them high-risk.

“I’m only picking the health care workers, and those who are immune compromised; the rest stay home,” Mediratta said. “Knowing my testing supplies are so limited, I will have to pick one over the other.”

It’s not just the tests that are limited. Mediratta says her office, and health care facilities across the country, are facing a critical shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“I’m the only one who puts the protective equipment on does the test,” Mediratta said. “That’s the reason I have only exposed myself, because we don’t have enough PPE, we don’t have any gowns we have minimal masks.”

Vice President Mike Pence asked construction companies to donate N-95 masks to health care workers, and third-party companies are working to call everywhere from nail salons to furniture restoration companies to try to secure them.

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The medical masks, which are ideally one-time use, are now being reused in offices across America.

“We have looked at the recommendations, and the N-95 mask is allowed to be worn five times, so I do that and then I change it every day,” Mediratta said.

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.