Patients In Central Illinois Frustrated By Lack Of COVID-19 Testing | WGLT

Patients In Central Illinois Frustrated By Lack Of COVID-19 Testing

Mar 26, 2020

UPDATED 9:30 p.m. | Lindsay O’Brien of Gridley thinks she probably has COVID-19.

She’s on Day 9 of feeling sick. She can’t catch her breath, is congested, has a fever, and gets the chills. On Monday night her shortness of breath got really bad and she couldn’t sleep laying down. She called her primary care doctor the next day.

“That was the biggest concern for me,” O’Brien said.

After talking to nurses and going through OSF HealthCare’s COVID-19 hotline, she was told she likely has the coronavirus. But she said she was told only people in intensive care were being tested. She was told to self-quarantine for two weeks.

The lack of available COVID-19 testing is a nationwide issue. In McLean County, some are concerned it’s concealing the full scope of COVID-19. There are only eight confirmed cases, but even public health officials say more cases could be out there that are unconfirmed.

“I don’t know that that (number) really depicts the reality of what’s happening,” O’Brien told WGLT.

O’Brien said her symptoms come and go, and she’s worried that others—especially those with inflexible jobs, who can’t easily self-quarantine—will mistake that for being in the clear.

“That’s my fear. That it’s going to be spread very quickly, very easily, in our small community. And that maybe people won’t take it seriously,” O’Brien said.

Denise Jones of Normal has the same concern.

Her 20-year-old grandson, Nick Herron, has been sick for about three days. He’s had a bad fever, chest pains, and is vomiting. After repeated trips to the ER—including Wednesday night—and a PromptCare, he’s been told he probably has COVID-19, Jones said.

Nick Herron, 20, was told he probably had COVID-19. But he didn't meet testing criteria, according to his grandmother.
Credit Denise Jones

But he hasn’t been officially tested.

“We don’t see a true number of how many people have it,” Jones said. “If people really knew how much this was affecting the Bloomington-Normal area, you wouldn’t have kids playing at the park behind where I live. You’d have people staying indoors. You would be isolating. But we’re not doing that because we don’t know how bad this is.”

'SKEWED' NUMBERS

Megan Fitzgibbons-Sanchez of Normal said she also thinks the number of "confirmed cases" in McLean County is skewed.

Fitzgibbons-Sanchez started feeling sick Saturday, with a cough, headache, and shortness of breath. It got worse, and on Wednesday her doctor advised her to go to the ER.

Fitzgibbons-Sanchez said the ER staff was great and gave her advice and medication to help with the pain. But she was told she wasn't sick enough to be admitted. That meant no test.

"If all the mild or moderate cases are being turned away, then we are counting only the serious ones, which are the only ones being admitted to the hospital," she told WGLT.

The uncertainty is stressful, she said, and she thinks there are "different protocols and even treatments for influenza versus COVID-19 that could change my level of isolation and care."

Fitzgibbons-Sanchez, 37, is a stay-at-home mom who works part-time and also is a part-time student pursuing her master's degree.

"The most challenging part for me has been having to be so separated from my loved ones while in isolation at home," said Fitzgibbons-Sanchez, who is getting help from her husband and mother-in-law. "I can’t hold my 2-year-old twins or play with them or hang out with my teen girls in their room. It can get lonely."

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

Experts say there is still not nearly enough testing happening in the U.S. Most other countries with outbreaks have done a great deal more testing. Even when people become sick, the federal government only recommends testing in limited circumstances.

The McLean County Health Department (MCHD) says only around 130 COVID-19 tests have been done locally as of Thursday, including 83 negative tests and 32 awaiting results. MCHD communicable disease supervisor Melissa Graven said testing remains behind the curve as officials locally and nationally try to identify and isolate those infected.

“That’s the million-dollar question we all would like the answer to,” Graven said about the timeline for more testing kits to arrive in Bloomington-Normal hospitals. “The testing supply is not meeting the demand. … We are doing what we can to ensure people have access to testing who meet the criteria.”

Coronavirus in McLean County
Infogram

Herron works at Walmart but is now self-quarantining, Jones said. His family is passing him food and medicine at his door, in hopes they don’t get sick too.

Jones is concerned her grandson may have a few different medical issues happening concurrently—not just COVID-19.

For now, it’s the uncertainty that’s scariest. If they knew for sure, she said, maybe he would be admitted to a hospital.

“We’re not sure he’s being treated properly for this,” Jones said. “I need somebody to take an interest. Just because he’s not 65 and diabetic, he’s still important to me. And I need him taken care of.”

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.