Guidance still lacking on whether and where to get tested
today at 10:25 am
Should I be tested for covid? You’ve probably asked yourself that during the last several months, and maybe thought, why not? But then perhaps you considered that there aren’t enough tests available for everyone, and labs are overburdened with processing tests.
I certainly wouldn’t have asked for a test out of curiosity. But I had symptoms — maybe. So perplexing is everything about the coronavirus that I wasn’t sure what to make of sleeping longer than usual.
About a week and a half ago, I awoke after 10½ hours and still felt tired. There was also a mild cough. Before last March, neither of those “symptoms” would have received a second thought.
What prompted me to ask my doctor’s opinion was that I was due to see my mother in four days and didn’t want to put her or the other residents of her assisted living home at risk. Either be tested or isolate for two weeks, my MD replied via email. Being tested seemed preferable — potentially a shorter isolation.
My doctor’s office doesn’t test. I was on my own to navigate stage two of the testing quandary: where to be tested.
The Illinois Department of Public Health’s testing sites are nowhere near me. Neither are Walgreens’. Physicians Immediate Care locations had no appointments available for more than 24 hours. A clinic within walking distance would not accept my HMO insurance. I couldn’t locate a nearby CVS site (but later learned of one near the Illinois Medical District, as well as a Rush Medical Center site).
The appointment and insurance details were a surprise. After seeing images of cars and pedestrians lined up at drive-through and walk-in locations, I expected to be able to show up and take a place in line. I also thought the tests were free. In fact, Illinois residents are not paying out of pocket, but if they have insurance, it is billed. Many sites require a screening phone call.
After more than two hours of searching online and on the phone, I found a clinic in Lakeview that would tele-interview me the next day before scheduling a test.
I was instructed to quarantine while waiting three to five days for the test result. I canceled my reservation for Sunday church services and told my mother I’d see her another time.
We keep hearing that testing is key to controlling the spread of covid, so why is testing so complicated and inefficient almost eight months into the pandemic?
Resources are still limited. The United States does not have the capacity, of supplies or staffing, to test widely, so the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has prioritized who should be tested.
You’ve heard numerous times about the failure of the federal government to plan and coordinate a national response to the pandemic. Although more than willing to fault the Trump administration, I was still baffled by people being left to their own devices about whether and where to be tested.
If covid had hit a year ago, when my dad was living, my parents would have been confused about what to do had either shown symptoms. Their experience was that a doctor ordered medical tests and told them where to get them. If the doctor had told them to choose between getting a test or isolating for two weeks, and didn’t tell them where to be tested, would they have known what to do?
My test results came back negative. I wondered whether I had overreacted to a cough and fatigue.
“Most public health officials and infectious disease doctors will say that if you feel you have a reason to be tested, you should be tested,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist, commented. “I can’t think of any reason why somebody shouldn’t get tested.”
That sounded reassuring and helpful. Good to remember if another judgment call is needed about how much coughing qualifies as a symptom.
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