By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 within the EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians), the Cherokee Indian Hospital (CIH) will soon have rapid tests available. Dr. Richard Bunio, CIH executive medical director, says knowing when to get tested is just as important as getting tested.
“It takes time for someone infected with the virus to show symptoms and start shedding virus in their nose and mouth,” he said. “While this can happen anytime in the 14-day quarantine period, the best time to test is six to eight days after the direct contact. Test too early and the infection may be missed. Test too late and we lose the ability to conduct contact tracing and stop others from spreading the disease.”
Dr. Bunio added, “The need for testing has doubled in the past month. Based off of testing data from the first week in September (276 tests) compared to the first week in October (613 tests), there is over a 100 percent increase in need. On average for the month of October, we are getting at least 100 requests daily for testing. The call volume has increased by 65 percent over the course of the last two weeks. As of now, we are on track to test well over 650 people this week (Oct. 12).”
Cherokee has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases recently. Since Sept. 25, the EBCI Joint Information Center has reported a total of 139 new positive cases causing the Tribe to enter the Red Risk Level (“take strong measures to limit all contact”).
On the new tests, Dr. Bunio notes, “The rapid tests that CIH has ordered are among the best available. They are called the SOFIA antigen test and provide a result in 15 minutes once they reach the lab. There are a number of rapid tests on the market today so it is difficult to say which one an outside clinic has chosen to use. Some clinics may also be using the SOFIA test and that is fine, but it is not the test itself that is the main issue. It is how they are used and what advice is given to the patient after the result is generated.”
On accuracy, he said, “A rapid test can give us a result that can get someone into isolation faster and prevent infection. We just have to accept that sometimes that test may be wrong and then that person can be released early. More concerning is the rapid test that is falsely negative if that convinces someone they can stop their quarantine while they are still contagious.”
Dr. Bunio recommends people to follow the guidelines set forth by health professionals. “If you are placed in quarantine (usually 14 days), a test will not shorten that time period. A person exposed to the virus may become contagious at any time in the 14 days after exposure. A test that is negative today could be positive tomorrow or even later that same day.”
He added, “We are experiencing the surge we predicted was coming, but it has arrived earlier than expected. This community did an outstanding job keeping the virus under control this summer, and I am confident we can do it again.”