Coronavirus: Why are we not vigorously testing?

I am writing this article today from quarantine, day three of quarantine to be exact. I have read articles and testimonies of patients and citizens across the country frustrated with the national response to this crisis. Despite the government’s statement that anyone can get tested with a doctor’s request, people across the country are stating otherwise, including the doctors requesting those tests. I can now add my own account, first hand, to the equation.

I spent six hours in an isolated room in a nearby ER on Monday, March 9, with flu like symptoms. I had not intended on being there, by any stretch. I had gone to my healthcare website to make a phone appointment with my doctor and was re-routed after answering a few questions, and asked to call a specific number. Once I called and spoke with them, they advised I go immediately to the emergency room. They called ahead so the ER would be prepared. I was told to wear a mask if I have one or, if not, use a cloth to cover my nose and mouth, to wait outside and away from other people, and have my husband (who should also wear a mask or cloth) go inside to inform them I had arrived.

Once I got there, someone came out, ushered me inside, through a door and into an isolated room where I waited for hours upon hours.

What brought me in? The previous afternoon I had began to feel some shortness of breath while out playing golf. I do have asthma, so while it didn’t feel like an asthma attack, I still felt it was more likely attributable to that. By the evening I had a sore throat. By the next morning I had a cough. A nasty cough. This was why I tried to get a phone appointment with my doctor.

Long story much shorter, I had developing pneumonia. I had taken DayQuil for my cough, so when I presented to the ER I did not have a fever, although I was able to report that I had experienced chills in the night and that morning prior to taking a fever reducing medicine. We also had potential second degree exposure through a gentleman whose daughter had traveled abroad and contracted the illness.

My ER doctor spent a good deal of time on the phone with the CDC attempting to get approval for testing. They refused to approve a test. They did, however, state that I and my immediate family or those I keep close contact with, needed to self quarantine for fourteen days. They also suggested I return to the ER for testing when they can verify a fever of at least 100.3 degrees (F).

This is with chest x-rays, negative flu testing, negative strep, and no other obvious reason for symptoms and with an onset of symptoms less than twenty-four hours before.

The doctor was exasperated and put it rather bluntly that what the government is telling people and what is actually happening are two very different things. We both agreed that since we had to be quarantined anyway, and the reality of how long it takes to be confirmed negative (which requires being tested at least twice to ensure the virus was not just missed in the first swab) it would be pointless to come back for what could be an even longer wait and waste of valuable medical resources unless I felt I needed medical intervention.

That ER doctor called daily to check on me until my follow-up phone appointment with my primary physician.

My story is not unusual. In fact, it is the norm. You cannot track the community spread of a new virus if you refuse to test people who present with symptoms. If you only test people with milder, non life-threatening symptoms who have traveled outside the country or had prolonged contact with a confirmed case, then you cannot detect the abundance of community spread. Period. Presently, you have to have severe symptoms to be tested and the majority of people do not have severe symptoms. But they are still quite contagious. This is a serious problem.

Why test people with fewer symptoms? Well, because we know that people who only exhibit mild symptoms are still contagious. They are the most dangerous people in our communities, not the ones who become deathly ill. It is the person with the stuffy nose, itch in their throat, and only mild or even no fever at all, who walks around everywhere, touching everything, and breathing on everything and everyone, who spreads it all the more. From them, the virus hops around quickly and quietly, making its way to hosts who are more vulnerable. And we are not tracking this at all. We aren’t even testing people who are clearly sick, let alone attempting to locate the more silent carriers.

Without widespread testing, there is no way to determine how many people may be infected nor who may be at higher risk based on exposure. What we know is that this virus is many times more contagious than common influenza strains and based on the data we have, much, much more deadly, especially to those over sixty or with underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and lung disease.

Let’s put that into perspective. According to the American Lung Association:

“In 2017, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey found that approximately 22.5 million (9.1 percent) of adults residing in the United States and 7.9 percent of children from twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia reported currently having asthma. About 16.3 million adults (6.6 percent) reported ever being diagnosed with COPD. Close to 33.2 million adults (13.4 percent) reported being diagnosed with chronic lung disease. “

Every one of these people are at higher risk of developing the more severe COVID-19 lung illness.

Based on the American Heart Association’s “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2019 Update” nearly half of all U.S. adults have “some type of cardiovascular disease.” 116.4 million U.S. adults (46%) have hypertension, more commonly referred to as high blood pressure.

Every one of these people are at higher risk of developing the more severe form the the viral pandemic.

Per the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), more than 30.3 million U.S. Adults have diabetes. Every single one of them are at higher risk for developing serious illness during this health crisis.

Even considering some of these diseases overlap in individuals, and adding age into the mix, more than half our nation is at high risk of potentially serious illness or death from COVID-19 and it is the quiet transmission which makes it all the more dangerous.

So, why is there not widespread testing? How is it places like South Korea can have literal drive-through testing for it’s people and here is the United States, we are months behind the curve of other places, with a government that seems to prefer shifting blame than dealing with a crisis? The administration appears to be more worried with keeping low “official” numbers than tracking the illness and making certain there is adequate response to the increasing healthcare needs of citizens.

Truly, we cannot stem a pandemic by ignoring it. We can’t wish it away with happy thoughts. All the banking and big business bailouts in the world can’t replace medical staff fighting the front lines, placing their own lives and families in danger, as they work with inadequate supplies, over-run hospitals, emergency rooms, and clinics, or magically create new ICU beds. Slow testing keeps those official numbers relatively low, but it endangers lives.

I’d like someone to please explain to me how the NBA has somehow become more responsible in a medical crisis than the government who is charged with keeping our safety.

And who will suffer the most from the economic fallout? Minorities and lower income households. The people who may be forced from work but have no savings, no ‘telework’ options, no health insurance, and no paid sick leave or PTO. Layoffs have already begun, especially in the hospitality industry. Even worse, no one knows how long this will last.

We need to demand a better response from our government. Throwing blame at other nations for not protecting us is both futile and a dangerous deflection. FEMA has funding and the capacity to help deal with this situation, but it requires a declaration of emergency. For an administration who had no trouble declaring national emergencies to build walls or assassinate foreign officials, you’d think they could muster the ability for a literal pandemic currently in forty-five states and D.C..

Well, it is just something to think about. I’ll visit this topic more over the next eleven days of stir crazy solitude. For now, I’m going to rest because, after all, I am rather sick. Not gonna die from it, but I still feel it necessary to share just how messed up this all is. Testing saves lives. Lives are much more important than good numbers, especially when those numbers are false.

Make noise. Demand better.

We are One Woman, One world.