The public laboratories that have the tests necessary to confirm cases of the new coronavirus are Inciensa, Hospital Mexico, the San Juan de Dios Hospital and the Children’s Hospital. The University of Costa Rica offered its lab but the Ministry of Health has not yet approved it.
In the province, personnel from Enrique Baltodano Hospital’s lab in Liberia make an initial analysis of the samples to detect viruses other than the new coronavirus. If tests for other viruses are negative, then they send the suspected samples to the laboratories listed above.
Here we explain more about the tests with information provided by the Ministry of Health and the directors of the hospitals in Liberia and Nicoya, Marvin Palma and Anner Angulo.
- What should I do if I have symptoms (fever higher than 38 degrees Celsius (100 F), cough, shortness of breath and/or nasal congestion)?
You have two options.
- You can go to any Ebais, clinic or public or private hospital. There, the medical staff will attend to you in the area designated for patients with symptoms and, according to their assessment, will take samples to analyze which virus corresponds.
- You can call 1322 where health specialists will clarify and explain the symptoms of COVID-19. Depending on the interview they conduct, they can give you instructions on what to do, for example, stay home or go to a medical center.
According to Liberia’s hospital director, most people in the province who suspect they might have the virus call by phone. When interviewed about their symptoms, and based on staff availability, medical centers can send specialists to people’s homes to take samples.
- What is involved in the test?
As defined by the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 care guidelines, the doctor will take samples of secretions from the throat or from inside both nostrils with a swab or suctioning with a special probe. In technical terms, the procedure is called a nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal aspirate or swab. Blood samples are not taken.
- Does the medical center that checks me analyze those samples and give me the results?
No. All samples taken in medical centers in the province are transferred to the laboratory at Enrique Baltodano Hospital in Liberia. There, the lab technicians do an initial analysis of the sample (called screening), which consists of detecting if what you have is another respiratory virus other than COVID-19.
- If the lab in Liberia doesn’t detect a virus, does that mean I have COVID-19?
Not necessarily. There are some viruses that are not yet detected by medical center labs. That’s why, if this first screening comes out negative, the hospital in Liberia will send your sample to one of the laboratories authorized to detect COVID-19. After that result, you will be sure whether or not you have the new coronavirus.
- How is the sample transported?
Vehicles from the Costa Rican Social Security (CCSS) or the Ministry of Health transport the samples in a clinical cooler (with temperatures between 4 and 8 degrees Celsius, which is 39 to 46 Fahrenheit) to guarantee the quality of the sample.
- Since it goes from Guanacaste to the Central Valley, can it take longer to get the results?
Yes. The lab specialists analyze the samples in the order in which they arrive. Inciensa virologist Hebleen Brenes told Semanario Universidad newspaper that “the time it will take to process the sample will depend on the number of samples received or where they come from.”
The director of the hospital in Liberia said that the time varies, but the average has been 72 hours.
- Will they contact me to give me the results?
Yes. The Ministry of Health or CCSS will contact you to give you the results and inform you what steps you should take.