BuzzFeed News has reporters world wide bringing you reliable tales concerning the influence of the coronavirus. To assist maintain this information free, change into a member.
Tanya Johnson needs she by no means went to the cookout.
On Juneteenth, Johnson and a dozen or so mates gathered in a yard in Atlanta, consuming BBQ and sitting in chairs spaced out in a circle. Johnson, 27, accepted a journey to and from the social gathering together with her buddy Jessica McCauley, 31. They drove with the home windows rolled up and hugged one another goodbye.
Three days later, Johnson received a sore throat, then an earache, then a fever. The subsequent day, McCauley’s 31-year-old boyfriend, Remey Williams, additionally got here down with a fever. On June 24, a buddy who had been on the BBQ known as McCauley to let her know their brother-in-law had since examined optimistic for the coronavirus. He had attended the cookout and McCauley and Williams had interacted with him inside after they weren’t carrying masks.
The mates made plans to get examined. They went to a parking zone in Fulton County the place nasal swabs have been carried out inside their vehicles at a state-run testing facility.
And then they waited.
It can be 16 days earlier than McCauley was formally emailed outcomes telling her she had examined optimistic for COVID-19.
Johnson’s mom, 59-year-old hospital secretary Margaret McNair, had accompanied her daughter to get examined too. While Johnson finally examined optimistic and needed to be hospitalized, McNair needed to wait 19 days earlier than an official e mail arrived in her inbox telling her she was destructive. That’s 5 days longer than the quarantine interval of two weeks beneficial by the CDC.
“Every day I was checking and checking and checking. It kept saying no results,” McNair informed BuzzFeed News. “I emailed. No results. I kept saying, ‘I’m a healthcare worker. I need the results. I have to go back to work.’”
“If they want to slow down the spread of this,” mentioned McCauley, “I think they need to be a little more aware of what’s going on.”
The backlog in testing throughout massive elements of the US comes as each demand and infections soar. The nation formally marked four million confirmed instances of the virus on Thursday, however specialists warning there are various extra which have gone undiagnosed.
President Donald Trump has held up the US as world leaders in testing, telling reporters on the White House on Thursday the nation had now carried out greater than 51 million coronavirus assessments. But with hundreds of thousands extra Americans in search of assessments — whether or not as a result of they’ve fallen unwell, have been uncovered to an contaminated particular person, try to return to work, or are even in search of peace of thoughts earlier than they take a trip — personal laboratories and well being businesses are swamped, resulting in communication and technical breakdowns, in addition to in depth delays.
As well being specialists and officers notice, the prolonged wait instances for some outcomes — exacerbated by a scarcity of provides — are additionally undermining the very goal of testing.
“The average test delay is too long,” National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins informed NBC’s Meet the Press in an interview that aired Sunday. “That really undercuts the value of the testing, because you do the testing to find out who’s carrying the virus, and then quickly get them isolated so they don’t spread it around. And it’s very hard to make that work when there’s a long delay built in.”
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist and analysis scientist on the Center for Infection and Immunity on the Columbia University School of Public Health, informed BuzzFeed News that tales of individuals ready 17 days or extra have been proof that “nearly eight months into the pandemic, our testing capacity is still woefully inadequate.”
“In the big picture, huge testing backlogs bode very poorly for the future, as robust capacity for rapid, easily accessible testing is essential to our ability to safely reopen the economy,” she mentioned in an e mail. “Even 5 days is too long, much less 17 (17!!!!!!!!!!).”
Kevin McCauley, a 36-year-old graphic designer in Houston (not associated to Jessica McCauley in Atlanta), was pressured to attend 17 days for his outcomes after he sought a take a look at on June 26. Days earlier, he had pushed his sister-in-law to a hospital in the midst of the evening after she started experiencing COVID-19 signs. When she was formally identified with the virus, a health care provider informed him to self-isolate and assume he had the virus, however he needed to know for sure.
After ready for greater than two hours at a drive-thru testing website run by Harris County, he was given paperwork telling him to contact well being officers if he didn’t get an e mail inside 5 days. When that by no means arrived, he known as the one quantity he may discover: a well being division line that might not settle for incoming calls and has an automatic message telling folks to count on their leads to three to 5 days. He made a web based account with Quest Diagnostics, the personal lab performing his take a look at, however there was nonetheless nothing.
“I was checking every few days,” he informed BuzzFeed News.
While he took quarantine severely at first, his requirements step by step slipped as he continued to attend amid silence however with none signs.
“For the first probably eight or nine days after taking the test, I was really strict about self-isolating,” he mentioned. “Anything I wanted I ordered on-line. I didn’t depart the home. I didn’t go wherever. I had a buddy decide me up a bottle of whiskey.
“And then at a sure level, I used to be like, This is unrealistic. I want to depart. I don’t have any signs.”
He lastly acquired a name on July 13 from a county well being consultant informing him his take a look at end result was destructive.
“I said, ‘Why did this take 17 days?’ He said, ‘Oh, well, you’re in Houston. It’s really swamped. They can’t handle it,’” Kevin recalled. “He was very sympathetic. He talked to me for a long time about the failures in the system. He was really frustrated.”
Kevin’s take a look at end result, which he offered to BuzzFeed News, confirmed it wasn’t acquired at Quest’s Dallas lab till July 2, six days after his nasal swab. It was formally reported into the Quest system on July 17.
A spokesperson for Quest informed BuzzFeed News in an announcement that they and others within the trade have been struggling to maintain up with the demand. The firm mentioned the common turnaround time for nonpriority sufferers is seven days, however famous “a small subset” have been ready as much as two weeks for outcomes.
“Demand for COVID-19 molecular testing continues to outpace Quest’s capacity and is highest in the South, Southwest and West regions of the country,” the Quest spokesperson mentioned. “However, the inflow of specimens to our labs has stabilized, at a high level, compared to last week, due to our efforts to modulate orders for lower risk patients.”
Dr. Umair Shah, govt director of the Harris County Public Health Department, informed BuzzFeed News that Kevin’s expertise was disheartening, however not stunning.
“Let’s not mince any words,” he mentioned. “That’s awful. This is the problem with this entire system around the country relating to testing and lab turnaround: We don’t have a system.”
According to Shah, it’s at the moment taking two weeks on common for outcomes to be acquired from individuals who go to federally funded testing websites in Harris County, the place some outcomes are nonetheless being delivered to the well being division by way of an outdated fax machine. The supreme turnaround is 2 to a few days. Such delays solely hamper public well being employees attempting to work in opposition to the clock to cease the unfold of the virus. Shah worries, specifically, that asymptomatic sufferers who don’t obtain leads to a well timed method might incorrectly assume it’s as a result of they don’t seem to be contaminated.
“It’s nonsensical that in 2020 we, as Americans, do not have a public health system that coordinates with healthcare providers and lab reporting that is markedly better than what we have. This is because of this underinvestment in public health over the decades,” he mentioned. “Well, the chickens are coming home to roost.”
Louise Serio, a spokesperson for the American Clinical Laboratory Association, a commerce group representing Quest and LabCorp (which carried out the assessments in Atlanta on McNair, Johnson, and McCauley after their cookout), informed BuzzFeed News that their members had quadrupled their testing capability since April, however have been struggling to maintain up with demand, in addition to a provide scarcity of reagents, pipette suggestions, take a look at kits, and platforms that enable for high-volume testing.
“We are building capacity every single week, but we have seen in the past several weeks that demand has skyrocketed,” she mentioned. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but we don’t have control over demand. Labs don’t order tests.”
Asked whether or not her members have been ready for the necessity for testing to additional enhance if colleges return within the fall, as Trump has pushed for, Serio responded, “Right now, when you think about the supplies that are in high demand, we expect that high demand to continue.”
Even after labs flip round outcomes, technical or communication breakdowns are stopping folks from studying of their prognosis. The LabCorp outcomes web page for Jessica McCauley, the Atlanta lady who drove her buddy to and from the ill-fated cookout, mentioned her June 26 pattern was acquired on June 27 and reported 9 days afterward July 6. She had created a LabCorp account, however the outcomes by no means confirmed up on-line.
“I started to check. It wasn’t there. So then I was checking periodically and it just wasn’t coming up. It wasn’t showing up,” mentioned McCauley, who works as a flight attendant. “I sent an email. I was calling. There were no responses.”
McCauley’s e mail from Fulton County’s public well being division saying her optimistic end result wasn’t despatched till July 12. Two days earlier, by probability, a well being employee had known as her boyfriend with whom she’d been quarantining to debate the optimistic end result he had acquired on July 7, when he inquired if the staffer may verify for McCauley’s outcomes. It was then that she first heard she, too, was contaminated.
“I’m blessed that my symptoms weren’t as bad as some people who have passed away from it, but the fact that people are waiting this long is not OK,” McCauley mentioned, “because if I didn’t have it I would’ve just been sitting around, but if I did have it and was asymptomatic I’d just be passing it along to people.”
McNair, the Atlanta hospital secretary, first cared for her more and more sick daughter at residence, however then nervous for her as she spent every week in hospital receiving therapy. She additionally feared for her 98-year-old father, who lives with the household.
For 19 days, McNair additionally couldn’t work till she knew for certain she was not contaminated and wouldn’t be a threat to her hospital colleagues. “It was driving me nuts,” she mentioned. “It was really scary.”
“I’m annoyed at the system because I think they should get back to people in time,” McNair added. “It’s like a domino effect. I lost my money not working all those days. Had my results come back in a timely fashion, I could have gone back to work.”
Test leads to Georgia have been taking 7 to 10 days on common, however even longer from some industrial labs like Quest and LabCorp, based on state well being division spokesperson Nancy Nydam. “As you are aware, it is a nationwide problem,” she mentioned, “not specific to Georgia.”
In an announcement to BuzzFeed News, a LabCorp spokesperson mentioned the corporate had skilled “additional delays” for some people who had been examined in Fulton County and had tried to make use of the corporate’s web site to entry their outcomes. “Many of the test orders were not delivered to LabCorp electronically requiring additional manual steps, which contributed to the time to make results available,” the spokesperson mentioned.
Sheena Haynes, a spokesperson for the Fulton County Board of Health, mentioned the native system is struggling to maintain up with demand.
“In the last several weeks, there has been an increase in the number of people getting tested, resulting in the labs being overwhelmed and results being delayed,” she mentioned. “Our district health director and chief medical officer have worked with LabCorp to resolve the issue, and results are coming back sooner for testing being done now.”
McNair’s daughter, Johnson, is now out of the hospital and on the mend, however nonetheless has a lingering cough.
McNair, although, continues to be struggling to imagine she needed to wait 19 days for a solution.
“Guess what’s so funny? The day after I got my results, someone called from somewhere and they wanted to do a follow-up,” she mentioned. “The lady was like, ‘Oh, actually, too much time has passed to do a follow-up.’”