CARY, N.C. – A family physician said she's conducting some tests outside her office to minimize the risk to her staff and other patients.

  • Doctors say they're triaging patients before they come into their offices
  • Nurses are trying to stretch their protective gear as much as they can while shortages persist
  • State officials have asked for volunteers from among the state's non-emergency medical workers to help fight the coronavirus pandemic

Dr. Gunjan Nigam said the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is adding to her patient workload. She is awaiting test results from several patients while fielding questions from many more.

To reduce the risk to her staff, she is conducting as many consultations remotely as possible.

A sign on her door asks anyone who has traveled to a COVID-19 hot spot not to enter. Nurses are testing anyone with suspected COVID-19 symptoms in their cars rather than inside Nigam's practice.

“That's all the protection we have,” she said. “We never know who comes in the door having no symptoms and having a positive test a week later.”

Lara Schoenebeck, a family nurse practitioner in Nigam's office, said she first does a flu test if someone suspects they have COVID-19. This test takes about 10 minutes to generate results. If that comes up negative, she then uses a COVID-19 test kit. The current test kits take five days to return a result.

Nigam said doctors at her level do not yet have access to UNC Health's test, still under development, that could provide an answer within 24 hours.

Nigam said it's become difficult to get the protective equipment her staff needs, including N95-rated masks, gloves, and gowns. She was given 15 COVID-19 testing kits and has already used five.

Schoenebeck said she wears full protective gear, including double gloves, a mask, and eye protection, each time she tests a potential COVID-19 case.

She said it's difficult to follow social distancing guidelines in her case because so many procedures, including nose swabs as well as the usual heart and lung checks, involve physical contact or near-contact.

Nigam said the best way to help her staff stay safe is to self-quarantine if you think you're sick and do as many diagnostics with your healthcare provider remotely as possible.

State health officials on Friday announced they were asking every non-emergency doctor in North Carolina to help out in the fight against COVID-19.

Nigam said general practices like hers can help reduce the workload on hospitals, so patients should first check with their primary care physicians. She said she's ready to help in an emergency setting if the state needs her.

Any medical personnel who want to volunteer can register online with the state.