Patience Is The Only COVID-19 Test Available, For Now
I wasn’t planning to write about getting hit with COVID-19. I’m not much of a public navel-gazer. I generally believe that my personal trials and triumphs are far less interesting than the characters I encounter in my line of work, and whose stories I get to share.
But then a good friend had this response to reports of my battle with the coronavirus: I was her first! The first person she actually knows who got it. And then a second friend had the same reaction to my news.
In truth, science tells us that many of us have already been infected. Some of us have gotten sick, to varying degrees, and recovered. Others have not been so lucky.
Here is my story. In early March, I was scheduled to have some foot surgery, fairly routine stuff. Despite my hyper-vigilant efforts to avoid germs, I got sick. It was an upper respiratory thing. I felt dizzy, and exhausted. I completely, as in completely, lost my sense of smell and taste. It was like someone flipped a switch – one moment it was there, the next it was gone. The day before I was to go under the knife, I postponed my surgery.
My doc told me it was likely a cold or the flu. Just stay home. Remember, this was early March. We now know that COVID-19 had already been making the rounds everywhere. At the time everyone was saying that it was just flu season.
I felt lousy. I did stay home, which turned out to be a pretty smart move. I got a nasty cough. My taste and smell took well more than a week to return. I began to suspect that I was indeed a victim of the novel coronavirus. The biggest tipoff was emerging reports about one of the weirder symptoms of the disease – patients reporting losing their taste and smell. That freaked me out.
Like the rest of the world, I’d been paying close attention to the path of the virus – in China, South Korea, Italy, spreading on a quarantined cruise ship off the coast of Japan, another off the California coast. I listened, not amused, as President Trump made one ridiculous pronouncement after another about what to expect in the U.S.
“It’s going to disappear one day – it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
“They’re going to have vaccines relatively soon.”
And this one, on March 6, which was of particular interest to me at that particular time: “Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. The tests are there. And the tests are beautiful.”
I emailed my doctor again. I suspected COVID-19. Can I schedule a test? Please?
This is the answer, then and now. No.
To get a test, you either have to be a healthcare worker, with serious symptoms, or you have to be so sick you need to be in the hospital. There have been only a few exceptions – like if you are a celebrity or a member of a professional basketball team. Otherwise, there aren’t enough tests. Trump’s boisterous claim of a “beautiful” test with my name on it was a lie.
After a few starts and fits, my body got better. Then I had this thought: Am I now immune? I may have had the coronavirus, but couldn’t get tested, so I can’t be 100 percent sure I had it. That means I, along with millions of others, will need to get an antibody test to know. Without massive testing, how are we all going to get our collective life back?
Guess what? There are currently about as many antibody tests available as tests for the actual virus. Practically speaking, virtually none.
The president hasn’t been talking much about testing anymore. Trump’s thoughts have lately shifted to scrubbing out our lungs with Lysol and shooting powerful beams of ultraviolet light into our bodies. I am no longer listening to him.
Instead, I have tuned in to the CDC, whose director is now promising “tens of millions” of antibody tests in coming weeks. I am hopeful that Colorado will have enough for everyone who needs them – sooner, not later. Ideally, the tests will be free, especially for people without insurance and hourly workers who are at the highest risk.
The sooner we have tests, the sooner we can all reopen for business.
In the meantime, I am wearing my mask. I am asking everyone else to please, wear your masks. I appreciate how fortunate I was to be able to stay home when I was sick. I am relieved I recovered. I am more than relieved that by good fortune alone I don’t seem to have spread it to anyone else.