SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Some cities are taking a new approach to testing people for the coronavirus. EMTs are going door to door to offer the test to people in their homes. NPR's Rebecca Hersher's been talking to some of the EMTs who are doing this in New York's public housing. And she joins us now. Rebecca, thanks for being with us.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks so much.
SIMON: The idea sounds promising. Does it seem to work?
HERSHER: Well, it's still early. These programs are still ramping up now in just about half a dozen cities. And New York City is one of them. One of the issues there is that people have been dying in their homes, which suggests that they are not being tested, and they're not being treated. And so the city is having EMTs go door to door. And I talked to one of the EMTs, 24-year-old Mayelyn Rojas, while she was working this week in the Bronx.
MAYELYN ROJAS: It's been pretty hectic, pretty busy doing a lot of COVID calls. Yeah.
HERSHER: Here's how she says her days go. She has personal protective equipment and a bunch of flyers with the symptoms of COVID-19. She knocks on a door, hands over a flyer, and then asks does anyone here have these symptoms?
ROJAS: Yesterday, I was actually handing out flyers for a good portion of the day, going door to door. And it's about over a hundred apartments. And the amount of people is, like, unknown in every building.
HERSHER: Because some apartments are one person. Some have large families. And then if someone does have symptoms, she can set up a telemedicine appointment with a doctor or a nurse practitioner who can decide whether to order a COVID-19 test. And if they do, she can do it right there. And at the end of the day, she drops off all the samples she's collected at UPS. And they get shipped off to a commercial lab, which sends back results in a couple days.
SIMON: Becky, you mentioned that New York City has a high number - shockingly high number of people dying at home. This is how they're trying to deal with that?
HERSHER: Yeah. And, you know, the ultimate goal here is to find people who are not seeking out medical treatment or testing on their own, maybe because they don't know how to do that, maybe because they're afraid to leave the house. And another EMT I talked to - her name is Judy Vidal. She said even when it's clear that a person is quite ill - and she's seen this - sometimes, they feel scared about the idea of even going to a hospital.
JUDY VIDAL: They're not sure. It's like, oh, should I go? Should I not? People are afraid, like, oh, it has to be severe severe. But a day could be life or death.
HERSHER: And she sees part of her job as talking family members into having this person go to the hospital. And she explains that people with COVID-19 can get critically ill without much warning.
VIDAL: We have to persuade these patients to take that step and their family, too, especially if we're talking about grandma and grandpa. We know that your parents are going to be at the hospital by themselves. It's going to feel lonely. It's going to feel strange. But, you know, the silver lining is that they'll come back. And we know we can't promise - that's the hard thing. We can't promise that their relative's going to come back because, you know, we don't know.
SIMON: Rebecca, how does this program, this effort fit into the larger push in New York to try to test more people?
HERSHER: You know, it's a relatively small piece, but it's important. It's hard to scale because it takes a long time to do each of these tests. Often, they take an hour or more. But it's really important because it's allowing cities to more proactively test people who wouldn't do it on their own.
SIMON: Rebecca Hersher of NPR's Science Desk, thanks so much for being with us.
HERSHER: Thanks so much.
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