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My husband and I are being refused the coronavirus test – but what if we passed it on to others? | World news


Yesterday, after nearly a month of acute and chronic health issues that continue to be unexplained, I took my husband – at the urging of his cardiologist – to the emergency room at St Thomas Hospital West in Nashville, Tennessee for serious cardiac and respiratory issues.

This being our fifth ER visit since early February, we provided the intake staff the same information in response to the coronavirus screening questions that have been asked four times before: in addition to my husband coming into close and frequent contact with a physician who had recently returned from a trip to China, he and I have both traveled extensively in the past few months, including to some of the nation’s largest international airports and overnight stays in a variety of hotels. While we couldn’t confirm we had been in contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus, we had no way of ruling it out.

Unlike the first four ER visits in the past month, though, this time was different. As my husband was providing the aforementioned information to the intake nurse, the nurse immediately, and with somber urgency, removed the EKG machine from his chest and ushered him outside. A few minutes later, I was approached by a nurse wearing what amounted to a biohazard suit and told that I was to join my husband in a decontamination chamber before being taken to isolation for suspicion of novel coronavirus infection.

The nurses and doctors explained that first, in order to be considered for a Covid-19 test, it was necessary to eliminate the possibility of any other ailments, including the flu, bacterial infections and viral respiratory infections.

A few hours later, we were told that all the prerequisite testing (X-rays, blood tests, and the like) had been completed and that all tests were negative. Following the procedures outlined by the state’s public health service, the attending physician provided all the relevant information to the public health department to request guidance on how to proceed.

In addition to my husband showing many symptoms known to be associated with Covid-19, we made sure to let the hospital staff and doctor know that for nearly a week, we’d been staying at hotels, as our neighborhood and the electrical infrastructure that powers it had been severely damaged in the tornado that swept across middle Tennessee on 3 March. Given that we were around a large number of people – even more so than usual – it seemed especially prudent from a public health perspective that should he or I test positive, there’d be a moral and ethical responsibility to notify the guests and staff at the hotels in which we’d been staying.

Despite all this, and the ER staff’s extreme caution when interacting with us in an isolation room – like a scene from the movie Contagion – after nearly six hours of back and forth, the state of Tennessee’s public health department declined to approve a Covid-19 test.

While the ER physician attending to my husband believed testing would be prudent, and fully aware of the increased risk to public health and safety since we’d been out of our home for over a week, the message from the state department of health was simple: we won’t test him because he’s not yet at risk of dying from Covid-19.

The ER doctor, while not surprised by the state’s response given his dealings with other possible Covid-19-infected patients, seemed genuinely sorry that he wasn’t able to order the test, and communicated that the state was the only entity that could order it – it was out of his hands.

Instead of being tested, we were told to self-quarantine for 14 days at the hotel in which we were presently staying. Never did the public health officials even inquire as to where we were staying so as to notify the hotel staff of a possible risk. We were told not to remove our face masks until we had exited the hospital, discharged through a decontamination chamber, and sent on our way.

While we were fortunate that electricity at our home was restored a few hours later and we were able to avoid going back to the hotel, we now find ourselves trapped at home, without any refrigerated or frozen food, and still without internet service, hoping for the best, but being told, basically, unless we’re dying, not to go back to the hospital – or anywhere else for that matter – for at least 14 days.

While countries around the world are rapidly responding to this pandemic with science and fact-based approaches centered on protecting the health and well-being of their citizenry, the response from the US is far from sane or logical, and ever further from responsible. Instead of facing the issue head on, public health officials and government leaders at the state and federal levels have taken what can only be described as a pseudoscientific approach to managing the situation. With a “if we don’t test people, then the outbreak is contained” approach to diagnosis and testing, the US can continue to vilify the rest of the world for their “failed” responses and worsening coronavirus outbreaks, close the borders, and jump from one misleading or false talking point to the next, all while burying their heads in the sand.

For all the concern in the early phases of this outbreak that Chinese officials were withholding or misreporting infection and morbidity rates, it seems that in fact the US is doing just what we accused China of doing. The outright deception and failure of leadership that the US is showing proves, once again, that this is a country that puts profits over people. Our leaders believe that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.

If ever there was cause to sound the alarm, now is the time.

My husband and I are fortunate to have decent health insurance and the means to self-quarantine and stock up on groceries and supplies for 14 days, but not everyone is so lucky. The people who are the least fortunate are going to pay the highest cost in this country, once again. And that is a moral failure on a pandemic level in and of itself.

It’s been over a month that my husband has been dealing with his health issue. All the while, we were told that he was not at risk. But I can’t stop thinking that whether that is true or not, we could still have been putting countless people with whom we’ve interacted over the past month at possible risk of death. And that heavy emotional and moral burden that has been placed on our shoulders is entirely the result of failed public health leadership.

I’m scared for myself. I’m scared for my family and friends. And I’m scared for the world. And I still don’t even know if my husband or I even have COVID-19. And unless I travel to New York to be tested, I’m not confident I’ll ever know.

Andrew Becks is a marketing professional who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his husband and their three dogs and cat. @andrewbecks



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