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Think you have coronavirus? Call your doctor before you head to an emergency room

Drive-thru testing facilities are overwhelmed
Posted at 10:13 PM, Mar 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-18 15:14:52-04

Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions at the end of this story.

CINCINNATI — Hospitals around the Tri-State are seeing too many people turn up to their emergency rooms, using up resources that could be put to better efforts elsewhere.

Drive-thru testing facilities for COVID-19 were the next step for healthcare providers in the area, but only hours after the service was rolled out, they were inundated with patients. UC Health subsequently announced appointments could only be made through a physician's office.

"The big message right now is if you're feeling ill, if you're experiencing symptoms, to call your primary care doctor," senior director of clinical initiatives and quality improvement for The Health Collaborative, Tiffany Mattingly, said.

Mattingly said emergency rooms throughout the region are packed, and they're not able to test for coronavirus there. So how do you find out if you have COVID-19? It all depends.

"If someone doesn't have a primary care doctor, then the best thing to do is to call the closest urgent care, and really primary care is trying to triage patients over the phone," Mattingly said. "So, they'll ask 'Do you have a fever? Do you have a cough? Do you have shortness of breath?' Those are the signs and symptoms that they're looking for."

Healthcare officials are trying to direct patients how to treat themselves over the phone or refer them to an alternate testing site.

"The health systems in the hospitals have set up alternate testing sites to prevent exposure inside the emergency department to other individuals," Mattingly said.

People who make drive-thru appointments with help from their primary care physician must bring a photo ID and an insurance card.

Find more coronavirus/COVID-19 hotlines and resources below:


  • Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 833-4-ASK-ODH
  • See ODH’s COVID-19 resources here.


  • State COVID-19 hotline: 1-800-722-5725
  • See the Cabinet for Health and Family Services coronavirus resource site here.


  • SDH Epidemiology Resource Center: (317) 233-7125 or (317) 233-1325 after hours, or e-mail
  • See more information for coronavirus in Indiana here.

What is coronavirus, COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are "a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

A novel coronavirus, such as COVID-19, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and has now been detected in 37 locations across the globe, including in the U.S., according to the CDC.

The CDC reports the initial patients in China have some link to a large seafood and live animal market, indicative of animal-to-person spread. A growing number of patients, however, did not report exposure to animal markets, indicating the disease is spreading person-to-person.

What are the symptoms? How does it spread?

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death, according to the CDC. Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath.

The CDC said symptoms could appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. It is similar to the incubation period for MERS.

Spread of the virus is thought to be mainly from person-to-person. Spread is between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet). Spread occurs via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

According to the CDC, it could be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, the CDC said.

The disease is most contagious when people are the sickest and showing the most symptoms, but it can be spread even at asymptomatic stages.