Orange County doctor among first in US to offer rapid blood testing as COVID-19 cases in spike

ByTony Cabrera and staff KABC logo
Friday, March 27, 2020
OC doctor among first in US to offer COVID-19 rapid blood test
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A Garden Grove doctor is one of the first in the nation to begin using a rapid blood test to detect coronavirus.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- As hospitals in Orange County prepare for a potential surge in coronavirus patients, a Garden Grove doctor is one of the first in the nation to begin using a rapid blood test to detect the virus.

Orange County's confirmed COVID-19 cases jumped Thursday to 256 from 187 a day earlier, but no additional deaths were reported by local health officials.

On Friday, county officials plan to begin providing more details on coronavirus cases, including the numbers from each of the area's cities.

Dr. Michael Dao of Dao Medical Group described a new rapid blood test for COVID-19 that is widely used in Asia.

"You put a drop of blood in it and some solution, and you wait for the line. In about 5, 10 minutes you wait for the line," he said.

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Dao comes from one of the biggest biotech companies in South Korea, but similar tests are starting to crop up in the United States.

However, the tests haven't been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. Testing kits approved by the FDA analyze a specimen taken by a swab. The FDA approved polymerase chain reaction - or PCR - testing kits, which can detect minute amounts of the virus in a specimen, which is taken from a patient. The OC Health Care Agency and commercial labs use PCR testing kits.

Dao said rapid blood tests aren't for everyone - mainly for those who have mild to no symptoms at all.

"These people who think they've been exposed to it and we can test these people to see if it's positive or negative," Dao said.

He warns it can result in a false positive, and recommends people get tested again in a week or so.

Meanwhile, as testing ramps up, hospitals are preparing for more patients. An annex tent has been established outside Mission Hospital.

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"We didn't need it quite yet. We are using it, but we didn't absolutely need it just yet and it's good to find out the bugs in the system and be ready for when the surge happens," said Dr. Jim Keany of Mission Hospital.

Keany recently arrived back from the Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, where he helped treat patients from the Princess Cruise ship that docked in Oakland earlier this month. He said canceling all elective procedures and ramping up telehealth appointments is helping reduce the number of patients in beds or at the hospital.

"Overall, our census is down, which is a good thing. We've told people to stay away and they've actually listened," Keany said.

He added that FaceTime is helping hospitals in a number of ways.

The basic technology that many people use on a daily basis allows a doctor or nurse in the hospital to be able to communicate through FaceTime with a patient in the annex tent.

"We're actually putting telehealth devices in the patient room, so physicians can reduce the use of PPE and be able to talk to the patient without having to gown up and walk in," Keany said.

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The OC Emergency Operation Center said hospitals across the area are at 67% capacity in terms of hospital beds, which is lower than normal.

OC's only fatality was reported on Tuesday and involved a 75-year-old man who was hospitalized March 17 and died two days later.

Of the 256 cases reported, 71 cases involved residents who contracted the virus through traveling; 25 by person-to-person spread; and 71 were "community acquired,'' according to Orange County Public Health officials. Eighty-nine are under investigation as to how the patients were infected.

The male-female ratio is 152 to 104. The hardest-hit age range is 18 to 49, with 140 cases; 76 cases involved individuals 50 to 64 years old; and 39 patients are 65 and older. One is a child.

As of Thursday, 3,605 people had been tested, leaving county officials with enough tests for 1,239 people.

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Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, is among those awaiting test results. The first-term congresswoman announced in a Twitter post on Wednesday that she developed cold-like symptoms' last week, called her doctor and was tested for COVID-19.

Porter, who posted a photo of herself wearing a surgical mask, said she would remain quarantined until she's given the clearance by her doctor to leave the house.

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City News Service contributed to this report.