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Dr. Irfan Hafiz said Friday that there currently are not enough COVID-19 test kits nationwide, but those numbers are ramping up, and he expects an increase in the number of kits soon.

The Northwestern Medicine infectious disease specialist said in a video Q&A session with Shaw Media Illinois that unless you’ve visited a high-risk country or had contact with a confirmed case, testing probably is unnecessary.

“If you are getting ill and you know you traveled recently to a Level II or Level III area, some of those I mentioned earlier – Italy, Iran, China – definitely get ahold of your physician by phone, don’t show up in their office, explain to them what you’re facing,” Hafiz said. “They’ll probably refer you to the public health department.

“For most people, the right thing to do is self-quarantine – stay home for 14 days. If there’s no fever, you don’t need to get tested at that point. For a lot of people, even if you get a bit of a fever, testing isn’t necessary. As long as you consult and self-isolate, you’re doing well. If you’ve got other risk factors, yes, getting tested is probably at that point.”

Even though Hafiz said he expects the number of test kits to rise quickly, he still stressed being judicious in taking a test.

“That production is in the process of ramping up,” he said. “So we should have enough test kits available out pretty quickly. We should in the next – either this week and into next week we should see quite a few more kits come available, and that should rise.”

Regarding the availability of respirators and hospital space, Hafiz tied it back to self-quarantine to keep spaces open for the sickest and most vulnerable patients.

“We don’t know how many patients are going to come in with this,” Hafiz said. “But I think the important thing to know is most patients can be treated as an outpatient. They will not need hospitalization. That’s 95%.

“So, therefore, if you are in that 95%, stay home. Recovering at home is the right thing to do. Everybody does not need to be admitted or come to the emergency room. It just overburdens and taxes the health care system across the nation.”

For those who are self-quarantined but also a caregiver for a child or elderly parent, Hafiz said finding someone else to take over those duties is ideal but unrealistic in many cases.

“If you are caring for another person, whether it’s a child or an elderly person, in those situations, wearing a mask and gloves would be helpful,” Hafiz said. “If you have the luxury – not most families do – of a family member or somebody who can take of the child or a sibling that can take care of Mom or somebody in the household is ideal. But the reality is a lot of people are the primary caregiver and need to understand that.”

A question about the end of the epidemic came up, and Hafiz said it’s not only hard to predict, it could vary from region to region in the U.S., with Illinois a little further behind other parts of the country that were hit harder earlier.

“We’re still, in many parts of the United States, still in the early phases,” Hafiz said. “China is probably in the later phase right now. South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong are probably close to that. Then you’ve got countries like Italy and Iran that are at the peak of their epidemic right now.

“Looking at what’s going on around the world right now, we’ve still probably got a few more weeks ahead of us. Not to say that all parts of the country are going to experience this equally. Right now, probably Washington state and New York state are probably a little further ahead with what they’re dealing with than, say, the Midwest is.

“In Illinois, we’re still a little bit behind, so we’ll probably get worse before we get better.”

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