An Ulster County resident with a slight fever and a dry cough concerned he might have COVID-19 was denied testing as the county grappled with a limited number of test kits from the federal government.
On Monday, the county received a shipment of test kits – only a tenth of what it had requested.
Eli Campbell started experiencing a slight cough Friday, February 13, which got worse until he broke out in a mild fever Sunday night, he said.
Campbell – who has asthma but is in his twenties and is otherwise in good health – didn’t feel too rough, but felt he shouldn’t take his chances, and called the Ulster County COVID-19 hotline Monday.
He was told there was no timeline when tests would be available, Campbell said.
He called back Tuesday, telling the operator his temperature was 99 degrees – he normally runs at 96 degrees – and was told “99 isn’t considered a fever anymore,” according to Campbell’s recollection of the conversation.
The operator then mentioned getting tested for the flu, and also mentioned a test given by a private physician, but Campbell said it was unclear if the operator meant he should get tested for the flu or the coronavirus at his doctor’s.
The county Health Department is currently the only entity able to take samples in Ulster County, which are then tested elsewhere in the state. The state has advised people to contact their physicians by phone if they exhibit symptoms, instead of going to a medical facility in person.
Campbell said Wednesday he was feeling better and did not blame the county for the situation, as they were not the ones in control of the tests’ production.
Ulster County Assistant Deputy Executive Dan Torres said the county received 200 test kits on Monday after requesting 2,000. Before then, the county was working with fewer than 20, he said.
“That’s just kind of the reality of where we are at this point,” Torres said. “We’re using those 200 to the best of our ability, obviously recognizing it’s a small fraction of both what we requested and what’s needed.”
The test kits are produced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and distributed by the federal government to the states. New York then distributes them amongst the counties.
The U.S. has struggled to produce its own tests, while the rest of the world uses tests developed by the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly six weeks ago, on February 6, the WHO announced it had already shipped 250,000 tests to more than 70 laboratories around the world.
There were never any discussions between WHO and the CDC about providing tests to the U.S., WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told CNN on Tuesday.
The U.S. doesn’t ordinarily rely on WHO for tests because it typically has the ability to manufacture diagnostic tests itself, according to Jasarevic.
The day after WHO sent out its tests, the CDC sent out enough test kits to state labs to test 50,000 people, according to The New Yorker, but the majority did not work properly when calibrated at the state labs during a process called “verification.”
It took another three crucial weeks for states to be able to use CDC tests.
Ulster does not appear to be the only Hudson Valley county struggling with a limited number of test kits.
A Columbia County woman who felt mild symptoms after an international flight was told there were no test kits available when she asked about testing last week and was eventually tested after three days. Her results came back negative.
Epidemiologists have stressed people with mild symptoms can pass on the virus.
Researchers realized long before the coronavirus hit the U.S. that at least some of the cases were asymptomatic – the people with the virus didn’t even know they were ill.
Recent research has concluded a large portion of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, but they can still unknowingly pass the virus onto others who can become severely sick or die.
A team of researchers from the United States, France, China and Hong Kong studied the spread of the coronavirus in China and found 10 percent of infections were transmitted by people who did not feel sick.
Another study – which has not yet been peer reviewed – studied coronavirus clusters in Singapore and Tianjin, China. The study suggested the rate of new infections caused by people without symptoms was far higher – 48 percent and up.
Campbell – who stresses he has no idea if he has COVID-19 or not – chose to self-isolate, not wanting to potentially pass the virus along to someone elderly or with a suppressed immune system. These two groups appear to have mortality rates far higher than other cohorts.
The CDC created a model presented last month estimating more than 150 million Americans could be infected by the coronavirus and between 200,000 and 1.7 million could die if no action was taken. New York started taking actions about a week ago. To see what you can do to help, and how acting now can have a huge effect on the outcome, click here.