Pennsylvania doctor takes state's COVID-19 testing problem into her own hands

Doctor administers free virus tests to locals
Doctor administers free virus tests to locals... 02:40

"CBS This Morning's" multi-part series, "State of Testing," looks at the state of resources and accessibility to coronavirus testing. In addition, the series will report on how states are responding to testing needs, whether they are developing testing plans, and what testing benchmarks they are looking for as these states make the decision to re-open.


The state of Pennsylvania has tested less than 2% of its 12.8 million population for coronavirus. For many in Philadelphia, testing can be hard to find. Pediatric surgeon Dr. Ala Stanford took matters into her own hands to get much-needed tests to the residents of the local community.

"Every time someone got turned away, I would get a call," Dr. Stanford told CBS News' Jericka Duncan. 

Her solution? To pay for the tests herself.

Stanford said she and her team of volunteers have been able to test over 1,600 people in three weeks. When CBS News caught up with her Friday, they had given diagnostic tests to over 200 people in a Philadelphia church parking lot. 

Like in many other communities around the country, tests began to run out, with nearly 100 people still waiting in line. Luckily a local hospital eventually stepped in and donated more tests. 

Philadelphia has been testing 1,500 people per day on average, but health officials say they need to test at least five-to-ten times that amount before they can safely consider reopening.

The state's health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said it has gotten "easier" to get a COVID-19 test, but that "some of it depends on where you live."

"I think it's really important to have a steady supply chain that we can count on in terms of testing, and it seems like that is developing," Dr. Levine said. 

Pennsylvania as a state has the sixth highest number of reported coronavirus cases in the country, and ranks fifth highest in number of COVID-19-related deaths. The state Health Department claimed it has tested at least 40,000 people in the last week.

Levine said the state's goal was to be able to test every resident who was showing coronavirus symptoms.

"We're working toward that," she said. 

While harder-hit places like Philadelphia and other southeast parts of the state will remain closed, northern counties with lower COVID-19 cases per capita are among those that could be the first to reopen. 

Some businesses will reopen on May 8, though restaurants will still remain curbside only across the state. Places like movie theaters will remain closed.

Andrew Brum, a resident of rural Lycoming county, said he is preparing to reopen the historic Otto Bookstore.

Asked what made him feel safe to reopen before getting tested, Brum said that he has been "very cautious to any exposure," but the worry remained.

"In terms of just general safety, I'm not going to say there isn't some concern, especially having a young daughter," he said.


Our "State of Testing" series takes us to Michigan on Friday, May 1. Tune in to "CBS This Morning" at 7 a.m. Eastern on Friday to see how health experts and officials are working to combat the coronavirus crisis.