A guest blog from my colleague, Lisa Frank, from our grants team, sharing her story of testing for coronavirus.
Last week, I got sick. First a sore throat, then a minor cough, chills and a headache. A few days after that, I developed sinus congestion and a small rash on my hand. Later that week, my wife came down with congestion, a cough and aches.
At first, I didn’t think it was the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). I often get sore throats from too many meetings and interviews, and there’s enough spring pollen in the air that you can practically see. Plus, I didn’t have a fever or difficulty breathing.
Nevertheless, we did additional research and found updated lists of symptoms, which included our aches, sore throat and other indicators beyond the “classic three” (cough, difficulty breathing and fever). Then we both lost our sense of smell, which has increasingly become a telltale symptom for the virus.
In D.C., you still need a referral for testing, so I scheduled a video appointment with a primary care doctor. The first available appointment was four days later -- which was eight days after I first showed symptoms. At my appointment, the doctor told me the affiliated urgent care clinic next door to his office was doing tests, but that I shouldn’t get tested. The doctor told me I didn’t sound sick, my symptoms didn’t match the textbook cases and tests were still being reserved for healthcare workers and people with severe symptoms.
I was frustrated. To be told you’re not sick when you feel sick is annoying any time. But in this case, without a test, I’d also have to self-quarantine even though I didn’t know my actual health status. While the doctor didn’t believe it was necessary, I asked him if I was eligible for testing anyway. He still didn’t give me a clear answer and told me the clinic would do their own screening.
My wife had more luck. Her physician recommended testing, and two days later she got her results: positive. I messaged my physician. His secretary called me back to set up a new virtual appointment with the doctor. It took three tries to get her to understand that I’d already had a (not very helpful) appointment with the doctor, and that I just needed to visit the urgent care clinic for testing. Even with the news that my wife was COVID-19 positive, the secretary was unable to confirm if I was eligible. Nevertheless, she was willing to tell me the urgent care clinic’s hours, so off I went.
At the urgent care clinic, the staff was nothing but helpful. They had plenty of tests and personal protective equipment (PPE), even offering me a mask to take home. The physician’s assistant told me they’d been less busy than usual. They not only tested me but also gave me a physical to make sure everything was ok. It was all free. And, it was a rapid response test, so I got my results right then and there: positive.
I’m grateful both my wife and I were able to get tested. It meant we could receive clear instructions on quarantining and a useful list of symptoms to watch out for. It also flagged our situation to our providers, which means they’ll take better care of us in the future. In addition, our records should help public health professionals in the D.C. area, and researchers worldwide, better understand COVID-19’s prevalence and symptoms. On an emotional level, there’s also certainly some peace of mind knowing our status.
But my experience shows we’re still a long way from having the testing capacity and coordination we all need:
If testing was truly comprehensive, I might have been able to get tested quickly and then isolate myself a week earlier. This could have prevented me from potentially giving my wife the virus.
If we had comprehensive testing and robust contact tracing, health professionals might be able to figure out how we got sick and who else we might have infected before quarantining.
If we had better local and national coordination (and let’s be honest, a better primary care doctor), I wouldn’t have had so much trouble finding out where I could get a test and whether I qualified.
Comprehensive, coordinated testing can make a difference for people right now, and it’s key to getting back to normal. You can help press for this by signing U.S. PIRG’s petition for comprehensive testing.
And if anyone wants to recommend a good primary care doctor in DC, I’m all ears...
Photo credit: Shutterstock