ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - There's shared frustration, nationwide, when it comes to long wait times for COVID-19 test results. It's especially distressing for first responders and healthcare workers who are forced to self-isolate for days or weeks at a time when they'd rather be helping those in need.
Melanie Cataffo said her sister's symptoms were like many others'.
"Scratchy throat and a low-grade fever," Cataffo said. "She had a little cough. It wasn't extremely dry."
Her sister is a nurse at a Bay Area hospital. To ensure the safety of herself, her family, and her patients, she was tested for COVID-19.
That was eight days ago.
"She called again and they said, actually it's going to be at least another three days, maybe longer," Cataffo said.
Now, both the nurse and her husband, a sheriff's deputy, are forced to self-isolate until the results are in.
"Two first responders that we're down right now because a test result is taking 12 days to come back," Cataffo said.
From Tampa General Hospital to the St. Petersburg Police Department, we've learned of front line workers testing positive and even more stuck on the sidelines, awaiting results.
“We need to have a way of getting the people who are truly negative back on the front lines to help the people who are fighting for us right now,” said Dr. Warren Sturman who's leading Broward County's Medical Response Unit.
Sturman is working with emergency management officials to get rapid COVID-19 testing for Florida's first responders and healthcare workers, bringing results in minutes, not days. But a test collection kit shortage is leaving them in limbo.
"What is happening is the people who are left behind are working harder. They are getting fatigued and there is less support for them," Sturman said.
BayCare, for example, which opened drive-through testing sites March 18, said it "shares the frustrations of patients who have visited our drive-thru COVID-19 test collection sites and whose results have not yet come back after more than week’s wait."
They went on to say, "BayCare is in constant contact with the laboratories and we have received assurances that they are working through the backlog."
Meanwhile, Quest Diagnostics, one of the labs processing Florida's tests, said, "We are working with healthcare systems to prioritize testing for in-hospital patients and symptomatic hospital healthcare workers. Hospitals and healthcare systems can submit specimens from these patients to us, with a 'high priority' designation. As a result, these specimens will be expedited within our standard first-in, first-out testing process. We are already notifying health systems of ways to submit specimens under these conditions."
However, in the case of one local nurse and her deputy husband, the wait drags on.
"If we are not prioritizing, we are depriving the community of people that should be taking care of everyone," Cataffo said.
Governor Ron DeSantis said the state has ordered 2,000 of the rapid COVID-19 test kits, which are able to deliver results in as little as 45 minutes. A total of 69,000 tests have been given so far in Florida, with nearly 11% coming up positive.
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to email@example.com. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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