MUSC Health expands COVID-19 testing capabilities following FDA waiver confirmation

MUSC Health has received an official waiver from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that will enable greater access to testing for patients with respiratory illness symptoms and possible COVID-19 exposure. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and his team worked with the FDA to expedite necessary approvals to mitigate the spread and severity of COVID-19 in South Carolina.

MUSC Health will continue to align closely all COVID-19 screening and testing processes with the guidance administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC). To date, national testing capability has been limited, which in turn has slowed the ability to administer testing at state and local levels throughout the country. 

With this federal government waiver, MUSC Health has been cleared to implement and accelerate screening and testing capabilities for more people experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms. Previously prioritized patient groups included hospitalized patients, patients with virus hotspot travel histories, and members of the health care workforce. Simply put, MUSC Health expects, within days, to increase significantly the number of patients who will now qualify for COVID-19 testing. This will be accomplished by continuing to work with DHEC, partnering with private industry and implementing an in-house test within the next week. MUSC Health is part of ongoing discussions with other health systems and community hospitals throughout the state on ways to provide access to in-house testing capabilities as quickly as possible. 

“Our priority now, in and outside of MUSC, needs to be addressing every layer we possibly can to flatten the curve,” said Patrick J. Cawley, M.D., MUSC Health CEO and vice president for Health Affairs, University. “That means continuing to align with CDC and DHEC guidance, our Governor’s office and other state and local partners to slow the speed and severity of the virus, and ultimately, its effects on our collective communities. The public can trust that MUSC is doing everything that we possibly can to mitigate the impact of this public health crisis.”  

MUSC Health continues to ask the community and referring care providers to use and direct patients to the MUSC Health Virtual Urgent Care online platform (musc.care) for access to respiratory illness screenings and testing orders. Using the promo code “COVID19” at check-out, patients can be screened for free. There are no age restrictions on who can be screened, meaning both adult and pediatric patients can be screened through the online platform. Patients who need specimen collection for possible respiratory illness or “COVID-19-like” symptom testing will provide testing samples at a drive-through MUSC Health respiratory specimen collection site located in the parking lot of the Citadel Mall campus, outside the MUSC Health West Ashley Medical Pavilion. 

The MUSC Health West Ashley Medical Pavilion is not a specimen collection site for this purpose. Signage will direct patients with testing orders and scheduled appointments to the entrance of the secure site in the parking lot. Providers within the site, wearing the appropriate CDC-recommended personal protective equipment, will quickly collect specimens while patients remain in their vehicles. More MUSC Health sites are under consideration and other local providers are beginning to implement this model for their hospital and clinic systems as well. 

A major concern for health care providers remains exposing vulnerable or non-infected patients to those patients who do have the virus and arrive to seek care in clinics, waiting rooms, hospitals and other such areas. Area residents should not go to MUSC Health emergency department to be tested or screened, unless they are severely symptomatic (short of breath, chest pain, etc.). Emergency departments are not equipped to screen or test for COVID-19 for mildly and moderately ill patients. Their primary focus remains protecting patients who need emergency care and MUSC Health care team members, which is why residents should first use musc.care if they need to be screened while experiencing mild to moderate respiratory illness.  

Most patients will experience mild to moderate illness while treating viral symptoms and recover within a week from the onset of symptoms. These patients can be triaged through the online platform, receive lab orders and scheduled appointments to report to the site and complete specimen collection without possibly exposing others to the virus. Patients are also asked to self-isolate pending test results and in accordance with CDC-recommended time frames before and after testing.

It is important to note: This is not a self-select drive-through or walk-up service for anyone in the community who has a health concern; individuals who report to the site for specimen collection, but do not have a testing order and scheduled appointment through the MUSC Health Virtual Urgent Care platform, will not be allowed to enter the secure site.       

“We’re doing everything we can to think out of the box to help the community during this time,” Cawley said. “We’re all in this together, and if we want to avoid overwhelming the health care system in our state and local communities, we need to flatten the curve. I hope the citizens of South Carolina understand that our entire organization, including our experts and colleagues in the academic and research areas, are working day and night to do what we can to fulfill MUSC’s overall mission while also mitigating this crisis.”

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