Reviews | The current chaos of COVID testing is a fiasco that shouldn’t happen
Long Island is in the midst of an unprecedented COVID-19 wave, thanks to the many gatherings with family and friends that have taken place over the holidays and the omicron variant, which is significantly more contagious than the Delta. It was quite predictable, but it is as if our government agencies and our health systems are taken by surprise, as we are unfortunately not prepared to face this wave.
Take, for example, our testing capabilities. If you are experiencing possible symptoms of COVID (shortness of breath, cough, sore throat, fever, gastrointestinal upset, or loss of smell / taste) and want to get tested for COVID-19 on Long Island this week, good luck finding a test!
I have an autoimmune disease that has caused me heart and lung complications, so I have been very careful trying to avoid COVID-19. However, I started to develop symptoms that could be related to COVID-19 on December 28. I wanted to get tested as soon as possible because there is a narrow window at the onset of infection where you can benefit from monoclonal antibodies or antivirals like Remdesevir, which reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. Access to these early interventions is especially important for high-risk people like me who have underlying heart and breathing problems.
I called my attending physician. No test available. I called my specialists. No test available. I called several hospitals on Long Island to see if it was possible for a person with COVID-like symptoms and in a high-risk category to be tested. I was told the only way to get a COVID test was to make a testing appointment online, and online booking sites were inundated with people who needed a test to travel or work. Tried making an appointment online for testing at Stony Brook, Peconic Bay Medical Center, Northwell testing site in Roslyn, any CVS or Walgreen in the metro area, in n ‘ any walk-in clinic… nothing was available until January 6th. With an average of three days for PCR testing, that means I wouldn’t have my results until January 9, more than 10 days after my symptoms started – too late for early intervention monoclonal antibodies and early antiviral infusions are effective.
I have tried to find home test kits, although they are not as reliable as PCR tests, especially when it comes to detecting omicron. Car trips and phone calls to more than two dozen pharmacies, 7-Elevens and Suffolk County grocery stores have revealed no tests. I posted on social media groups, “Has anyone found any home test kits? A friend heard that there was a test left at a St. James’ pharmacy. Another heard that the 7-Eleven in Shirley was getting test kits soon. By the time I visited the store or called, those tests were gone as well.
I was delighted to learn on the morning of December 29 that Suffolk County was opening a first-come, first-served trial site at Hecksher State Park which would be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. I arrived at noon on the first day of testing. They had already passed their 1,000 tests for the day and closed at 9 am, so I left without testing. Were Suffolk County officials so ignored of the huge demand for testing that they actually thought 1,000 tests would take up to 4pm?
Then a doctor friend informed me that Stony Brook Southampton had undergone PCR nasal swab testing on a first come, first served basis. After four hours of waiting (luckily in our car), I was finally tested. Alleluia!
As I embarked on this multi-day, county-wide scavenger hunt while experiencing miserable symptoms, I began to wonder why our government agencies, large hospital systems, and national drugstore chains failed. don’t they prioritize testing for people with COVID-like symptoms and people in high-risk categories? Why does the person who wants a test so they can go on vacation have the same priority access to the test as a person who is actually showing symptoms and is at risk of serious illness or death? Why don’t we plan our testing programs to help identify people who will benefit from early monoclonal and antiviral intervention in a timely manner? And just as important, why is our test infrastructure so ill-prepared to handle the post-vacation wave we all knew was coming?
Until the wave is over and it is as easy as it should be to find a timely test, government agencies, hospital systems and large drugstore chains must immediately implement measures. policies that prioritize access to PCR testing for symptomatic patients and those at high risk. In addition, the efforts of Suffolk County and New York State to expand access to testing must be done now; not next week, not next month. The push is already there.
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