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Letter | Don’t let COVID prevent you from crucial genetic testing

Dear Editor,

Hawkin Miller’s recent article “Do Jewish genetic diseases increase the risk of COVID-19?” brought back memories of my work as a genetic counselor and care coordinator for patients with Gaucher and other diseases common in Jewish communities.

Many people with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to infectious diseases and complications, and they need to be extra careful in the face of health threats like COVID-19. In fact, everyone should be careful! But people should continue to receive appropriate healthcare for other things, especially genetic testing for people planning to start or grow their family.

Jewish and interfaith couples are at increased risk for having children with diseases more common in Jewish communities. Carrier screening for Tay Sachs, familial dysautonomia, Gaucher disease, cystic fibrosis and many other conditions is important in determining which couples are at risk so they can know their options for family planning.

But, right now, people may not be able to get to their doctor for genetic testing. Or they don’t know that this testing can be done from home. Or they’re worried about the safety of at-home testing. As a consequence, as Dr. Ostrer said, “people are falling through the cracks.”

Many genetic testing labs understand the current need and are stepping up their game in terms of offering at-home testing.

As a public service during this pandemic, the Forward is providing free, unlimited access to all coronavirus articles. If you’d like to support our independent Jewish journalism, click here.

JScreen, a national online at-home Jewish genetic disease testing and counseling program based out of Emory University, has been offering this service for seven years. The program offers testing for over 200 diseases common in Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi and non-Jewish populations.

People register from home, send in their saliva sample by mail, and receive their results by phone or secure video conferencing from a certified, licensed genetic counselor. And their personal healthcare provider receives a copy of the results for their records. The safety and well-being of individuals getting screened are top priorities; doing this type of testing from home is extremely safe.

My advice: Don’t fall through the cracks when it comes to taking this important step in planning ahead for a future healthy family.

Sincerely,

Karen Arnovitz Grinzaid, MS, CGC, CCRC
Executive Director, JScreen

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