03/19/2020

Patients and nurses frustrated by slow COVID-19 test results

The Arizona State Health Department admitted Wednesday that they do not have enough COVID-19 tests for everyone who feels symptomatic to get tested.

However, even the people who have gotten a test are frustrated by the time it has taken to receive results.

The Arizona Mirror has learned that multiple valley hospitals are sending the coronavirus tests out of state to California, and the turnaround times are lasting seven to ten days.

For Mike Brain and his girlfriend Jean McKnight the symptoms came on quickly.

“Cough, sore throat, heavy chest,” said Brain.

The couple are self-proclaimed “snowbirds” and traveled from Alaska to Queen Creek in February.

In early March, they realized their bodies were off. “So we went to urgent care. We got a prescription, we got treated. Then we came home,” said Brain.

The urgent care though, did not have COVID-19 tests. So when things got worse the couple went to Banner Ironwood’s emergency room.

“We interacted with at least four people at the ER,” he said, noting that they also signed in using a pen.

Before either one could get a COVID-19 test they were asked a series of questions to see if they qualified for one of the limited number tests.

“How did you get here?” Brain recalls the nurses asking. “‘Well we came through Seattle,’ he replied. “And that moved us up to where we could be tested.”

Jean was tested Saturday morning.

“The CDC says Arizona is a 24-hour turnaround on testing. I didn’t know that, so I called on Monday morning, only to find out that our tests– Jean’s test was sent to California, and it would be a 7 to 10-day turnaround,” said Brain, who was never tested.

Brain said he got the impression the hospital was rationing their tests, which he said he was fine with given the national emergency. He also told ABC15 that nurses said if his girlfriend tested positive that likely meant he would too, given their constant contact.

A nurse at Scottsdale Osborn, who asked to remain anonymous, told ABC15 that her hospital’s tests are being sent “on commercial airlines [to California], which is delaying testing up to three to five days.”

That’s a real problem at her hospital, she says, because there’s already a mask shortage.

“There are supplies that are needed as far as isolation; gowns, gloves, masks, goggles, etc.,” she said. “And a lot of them are wasted, waiting for these tests that are taking days in days.”

On top of that, she says some terminally ill patients with symptoms are quarantined for days while they wait.

“Their family can’t even hold their hand while they are dying. They have to actually look at them through a window,” she said. “It’s very crucial to the healthcare system right now that we need these results and we need them immediately.”

Mike and Jean are equally worried that their friends, and everyone they came into contact with, may have been infected too.

“We’re concerned that we might have it,” he said. “But I’m really concerned about the people over at the ER.”

Many more Arizonans will inevitably test positive in the coming weeks.
The question is, will hospitals and the state and federal government find a way to get them results quicker, before the unknowingly infect others?

“It’s like there was no sense of urgency over there,” said Brain. “I just want an answer quickly.”

A big question Brain had was, ‘If the state lab can turn around results in 24 hours, why are hospitals sending their tests to California?’

In an email a Banner Health spokesperson said:

“We are utilizing the limited state lab resources for hospitalized patients with severe illness… For those who are tested for COVID-19, we ask that they go home and self-quarantine until test results are received. This will significantly reduce potential spread of the virus and protect others while they await their results.”

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