PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – If you come down with a cough and fever in the coming days and think it could be coronavirus, don’t immediately rush to your local emergency room.

“We would recommend that they contact their primary care physician, or health care provider, and express their concerns, and seek guidance from them,” says Emily Magee, Manager of Infection Prevention at St. Clair Hospital. “We don’t want people to come to the ED unless absolutely necessary.”

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If you’ve recently traveled from China, Iran, Italy, Japan or South Korea — or had contact with travelers from these places — you could be directed to the hospital and placed in an isolation room.

In the emergency department, there is a step-by-step procedure sheet. The first step is to contact the Health Department. If the hospital is to proceed with testing, there’s a series of specimens to be collected.

“We have testing kits available, we know which specimens we need to collect,” says Magee. “There’s a nasopharyngeal swab, sputum, blood and another lower respiratory specimen. We collect the specimens, put them in a shipping container.”

The hospital then calls a special courier, and the package goes to the state health department’s lab.

“Recent development this week,” Magee adds. “The state lab is now approved to do the testing. Previously it was all specimens were going to the CDC.”

So far, she has sent only one test in the last few weeks, and she got a prompt response. It was negative.

“It’s a PCR, so the testing itself is quick, I think it depends on the volume.”

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The PCR test — polymerase chain reaction — looks for coronavirus DNA.

“We have the testing supplies on hand. The specimens that we’re collecting are routine specimens we collect,” Magee explains. “It’s the test, in particular, that’s special.”

She’s worried about backups as tests pour into the state lab.

Until March 3, that lab could process only six tests a day.

Late on March 4, the state health secretary announced the lab can now process 25 tests a day — still a far cry from what medical experts expect they’ll need.

“Labs are working diligently to try to get more testing sites to accommodate a potential need for increased testing,” Magee says.

Spokespeople from the Allegheny County Health Department and the Allegheny Health Network says they are not yet testing for COVID-19, and UPMC says it’s developing its own lab analysis with testing agents specified by the CDC.

“If you have mild or moderate symptoms, and you can stay home, stay home and follow up with your physician. Don’t just present to a hospital,” Magee warns. “Because we really do want to contain it, if there’s any potential that you have COVID-19.”

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If you have trouble breathing, a rapid heart rate, fainting or feel lightheaded, you should go to the emergency room.

Dr. Maria Simbra