A nasal swab test kit in the Northwell Health Lab...

A nasal swab test kit in the Northwell Health Lab in Lake Success earlier this month. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island hospitals are establishing sometimes stiff criteria for whom to test for the new coronavirus as they brace for a surge of new cases with the outbreak’s ongoing spread throughout the region.

Representatives of local hospitals said Sunday that symptoms of the illness — such as a fever, cough and shortness of breath — are prerequisites for tests, and they urged people who fear they are infected but are not having a medical emergency to contact their primary care doctors first.

Northwell Health, which operates numerous hospitals on Long Island, is prioritizing patients for testing who are hospitalized, at high risk of infection and require more immediate and intensive medical attention. Others with coronavirus-like symptoms who potentially had close contact with an infected individual will also be tested.

“Only people who meet that criteria will be tested,” Northwell spokesman Terry Lynam said Sunday. “All others who are concerned about exposure but who have no symptoms should recuperate at home.”

Northwell is processing about 200 tests each day.

Rockville Centre-based Catholic Health Services of Long Island, which operates six hospitals, is encouraging those concerned they have the coronavirus not to seek tests in emergency rooms, as doing so poses its own hazards.

“If you don’t have it, you’re putting yourself at greater risk of contracting it,” spokeswoman Chris Hendriks said. "If you do have it, you’re putting others at risk.”

She encouraged those concerned to contact their primary care physician or, where available, turn to a telehealth service.

Testing has become a key component of the effort to combat the coronavirus, or COVID-19, as those who learn they are infected can take steps to not spread the virus to others. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday called testing “probably the single most important thing that we could be doing now.” On Saturday, he said Jones Beach State Park was under consideration as a site for drive-through testing. He said Sunday 5,272 people have been tested in the state so far, and capacity is ramping up.

Drive-through sites could help take some of the strain off hospitals, which face a shortage of resources necessary to conduct widespread tests.

“There’s only so many tests that are available, there’s only so many labs that are available,” said Barry Rosenthal, chairman of the Emergency Department of NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola. “We do not have an infrastructure in place to test entire communities, so we have to limit it. We essentially need to triage those who need to be tested and those who don’t.”

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Winthrop is testing people who require hospitalization or are symptomatic and were exposed to somebody with the virus.

Joe Calderone, a spokesman for Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, said the hospital has been “ramping up” testing but is also being selective.

“If you have no symptoms, we’re asking you not to come to the emergency department,” he said. “You really want to call your primary care provider.”

Lake Success-based ProHEALTH, which operates 30 urgent care centers in the New York region, has also started testing for COVID-19, although it is limited to patients who are showing signs of the illness and have been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

The group said it will also set up drive-through testing at facilities in Jericho and Little Neck, Queens, later this week.

To test for COVID-19, medical professionals use swabs to take samples from the throat, which are then examined in a laboratory. Long Island hospitals said Sunday it can take one to four days to get results.

“Everyone would benefit if we had a faster turnaround time on the test results,” Calderone said.

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