Last week I shared a personal account of taking my son for coronavirus testing after he came into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. An ad hoc drive-through test ensued and turnaround was promised within three days – possibly two – from a private lab company.
To make a long story short, that deadline passed and we were left hanging through the weekend. But Sunday evening at about 9 PM, we received the result we had hoped for: He tested negative for COVID-19, as well as flu and strep.
I’m so grateful that my son is healthy and, presumably, did not infect any others. However, the results were in some ways bittersweet, given that many, many people are still in the same boat from which we just emerged. This gave rise to some additional reflections on the problems dogging coronavirus testing in this country.
Speed: We have drive-through COVID-19 diagnostic testing; why do we still lack overnight results? Times for processing tests, while said to be improving, still vary considerably, from a few hours for hospital inpatients to several days for outpatients, like my son. That’s unacceptable. Unless we shrink the time it takes us to identify cases, rapidly isolate those affected and do track-and-trace of those with whom they may have come into contact, this pandemic can get further out of hand fast.
Scale: Testing is finally ramping up, but still doesn’t match that of Italy or South Korea. Until it scales, case counts are artificially low, which fosters a false sense of security – e.g., “my community has yet to see a confirmed case, so I must be safe.” But once testing gets going, many undetected cases will suddenly appear, threatening to swamp the healthcare system. Thus it behooves every community to activate pandemic plans, including appropriate social distancing and stepped-up hygiene, right now.
Seclusion: As one Twitter user quipped, “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being called to sit on your couch. You can do this.” Quarantine rules are slowly taking effect, and they can help reduce transmission of coronavirus among patients and HCPs. But we need to abide by them for the strategy to work. If there are pockets of resistance, all the closures of schools and shutdowns of businesses are to no avail.
Did my 12-year-old son appreciate how protracted test-processing continues to hamstring our country’s ability to defend against this public-health scourge? Probably not as much as my wife and I did. One thing he understood: As it became evident that his health was in the clear, it quickly dawned on him that he couldn’t actually go anywhere.
By Monday morning, schools and places of worship were closed. Many stores had switched to online mode, restaurants were takeout-only and the governor was about to enact an 8 p.m. curfew. My kid – along with the rest of the family – merely exchanged one quarantine for another.
Did that put a damper on our good news? Perhaps, but it’s exactly what needs to happen if we’re going to get this pandemic under control. And we will.
Speaking of which, I want to express my sincere thanks to everyone who conveyed wishes for the well-being of our family, and for sending along your wonderful thoughts and prayers over the past week. According to one letter-writer – a fellow dad – the disruption caused by coronavirus is “a surreal experience, but we are overcoming fear with faith and wisdom.”
Amen to that. Here’s wishing everyone the best of health.