By ROB LAMBERTS, MD
My first possible COVID-19 case came nearly three weeks ago, before there were any cases in our city. He was a healthcare professional who presented with fever, sore throat, and cough. We did the usual strep and influenza testing, both negative, but I thought that he looked different. He had some diarrhea, stomach pain, and a different look to his face that I couldn’t place.
“You might have it,” I said. “You might have coronavirus.”
He looked at me nervously, obviously having thought the same thing. “Is there anything I can do about it? Can you test me?”
No, there were no tests anywhere at that point. Few states had access to any testing, so I knew all we could do was to wait. I sent him home and told him to go to the hospital if he developed shortness of breath, and that we’d get him tested as soon as possible. That seemed to be a short time, as my nurses contacted the national lab we work with and they told us that collection kits for COVID-19 were “on the way” and would get to us in 1-4 days. Perfect.
That was the start of a long odyssey of growing frustration, helplessness, and anger at the testing for this deadly disease. Those kits never showed up. By the time we had local access to testing, the patient had gotten completely better and was asking to go back to work. He works around very vulnerable patients and we told him to let his employer know about my suspicions and to get him tested. We never heard anything.
Of course, since then every cough has been a worry to my patients. Fevers are watched with dread. We have been directing people to contact our local academic hospital to be triaged for COVID-19 testing. A couple of them have been accepted, none has tested positive. Some of them have seemed suspicious to me, but the lack of adequate testing has the triage center restricting tests to the very vulnerable or the obviously sick.