It’s hard enough for people to get swabbed for COVID-19, but just because you’ve had a sample taken, doesn’t mean you’ll get results.
“I’ve never felt so helpless, especially in the middle of the night when I hear our 1-year-old starts crying and I just want to jump into action but I can’t because I can’t leave my room,” said Melissa Moreno of Phoenix.
Melissa said she started to feel sick around March 14 with a fever, fatigue and some serious coughing. She isolated herself in her bedroom while her husband and two young children hunkered down outside her door.
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On March 18, she said she went to HonorHealth and swabbed for COVID-19. After days with no results and a worsening condition, she went back to the hospital on March 25, where she said a staff member explained they hadn’t gotten results from the lab.
“It looked like they had actually sent it out, but for some reason, in their records, they decided to discontinue it,” explained Jonathon, Melissa’s husband. “We don’t know how that happened. We kind of got the runaround.”
In an interview with 12 News, Jessica Rigler, the assistant director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, stated that some swabs sent to the state lab were not tested if the county health departments did not pre-approve them or if they did not meet the state’s criteria to be tested.
“In order to be tested, and there is a prioritization matrix that the counties use when determining whether or not a person meets criteria to be tested at the state public health laboratory,” Rigler said. “So if specimens just arrive at the state public health laboratory, without the counties having first approved them, our team will follow up with the counties that they can work back with the submitting health care provider to determine the reason that the specimens were sent and whether or not they would be approved for testing at the state public health lab.”
“If they are not approved for testing, those would get referred to a commercial lab for testing,” Rigler said.
However, Rigler continued that the strict testing criteria is the same criteria that private labs use to determine which samples to test.
“We have a state disaster medical advisory committee that meets in time and they actually put out guidance in the last week recommending any testing facility follow this same infrastructure,” Rigler said.
The criteria for testing, published to the state department of health’s website says the following populations are the priority:
Healthcare workers, first responders, and employer identified critical infrastructure personnel* with COVID-19 symptoms; “critical infrastructure” includes: Chemical, Emergency Services, Energy, Nuclear, Water
Individuals living in congregate settings with symptoms of COVID-19; meaning jails/prisons, universities and nursing homes
Individuals hospitalized with respiratory symptoms
Without results, Melissa said she was “presumed positive” by a doctor at HonorHealth.
“The medical director actually came and talked to me,” Melissa says. “She said, 'I’m so sorry this happened.' As far as the hospital’s concerned, I think it was out of their control.”
The Morenos aren’t the only family that’s reached out to 12 News with testing troubles.
One woman in Tucson said she’s still waiting for results after being swabbed on March 10 after returning from a trip to Washington state and showing COVID-19 symptoms.
The slip she got from the hospital confirms she was swabbed and that her results should be completed in five to seven days.
After making several calls to try and get results, she told 12 News she was told her swab was “rejected” by the state lab and that she’d need to pay about $200 to get tested commercially.
On Thursday, 12 News spoke with another family who says their daughter’s roommate has been waiting on results for more than a week. They said staff at Banner Health told them there was a “lab issue” after her swab was sent to a private lab in California.
“Without knowing, it’s hard to determine which limits you need to put on yourself at this point,” says Tim O’Connell who has been working with his daughter and her roommate to get answers.
In the meantime, Tim, a 9/11 first responder with severe respiratory issues, doesn’t want to risk seeing his daughter for fear he could become exposed.
“You have to put your entire life on hold,” he says.
Rigler said that the vast majority of swabs would be tested, but the state health department was unable to immediately provide 12 News with details on the number of swabs that had been submitted but not tested.
The Maricopa County health department has not yet responded to requests for comment.