A Physician’s Point of View: Can you get tested for the COVID-19 Delta variant?
I have recently been asked about testing available specifically for the COVID-19 delta variant.
If a patient requests a test, are you able to order it?
The answer is no. Testing of specific COVID-19 variants is handled by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Consequently, the lab we use for COVID-19 PCR testing does not currently test for specific COVID-19 variants.
As has been the case since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, Texas MedClinic reports test data to the respective health department where we have clinics. Health departments in San Antonio, Austin, and New Braunfels review the case data we share with them. Relative to the delta variant, they are currently reviewing breakthrough cases in vaccinated patients who have positive COVID-19 PCR tests. The respective health departments connect with the lab to learn the CT level, or cycle threshold, which indicates how much virus an infected person harbors.
If a patient has a high viral load, fewer rounds of reverse transcription needs to take place to reach a level that turns the test positive. CT levels vary, but the lower the number (or number of rounds of reverse transcription) the more virus an infected person carries. If the CT level is less than 30, then the health department asks the lab to send the specimen to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
In San Antonio in the near future, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department (Metro Health) hopes to submit these specimens direct to the University Hospital lab. The health department prioritizes testing for the variant strains in the following cases: breakthrough cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Currently, Metro Health is not getting a lot of positive delta variant tests in San Antonio. I previously thought that the health departments would ask our patients to obtain another sample when we reported their breakthrough cases. This is not the case. Rather the lab will send off the specimen we already submitted to be evaluated for the different variants.