AUSTIN (KXAN) — Doctors in Austin say there is a shortage of coronavirus testing supplies, so much so that they are telling patients they don’t qualify for a test — even those patients they believe are likely infected. One doctor told a patient he had a “high suspicion” she had COVID-19 but that tests in Austin were at a “critical shortage,” and then denied her request for a test.
The mayor and governor have touted new drive-thru clinics, but patients like the one told she probably had COVID-19 are being turned away — caught in red tape, an overworked health care system and a shortage of tests.
Instead, these patients are being told to stay home and self quarantine.
“Tests for COVID-19 are being saved for critically ill patients who are hospitalized.”E-doctor at Baylor Scott & White writing to a patient
On March 16, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said, “By the end of this week, everyone who needs a COVID-19 test will be able to get a COVID-19 test.” As of Sunday, that appears to have been overly ambitious, and the governor backtracked in a Sunday news conference.
“Bottom line is that there is a rapid increase in the number of people who have been tested and are being tested,” Abbott said, adding that the shortage wasn’t a monetary one but a shortage of testing supplies from the federal government.
“The federal government is aware of both our demand as well as the inadequate supply and they are working aggressively to ramp up supplies that they are providing,” Abbott added. “And as they continue to ramp up those supplies we will continue to increase the number of people who are tested.”
As of the morning of March 22, approximately 8,700 people had been tested, the governor said. About 600 Texans have tested positive and six have died. Texas has an estimated population of nearly 29.5 million people.
‘Concerned about how difficult it is to be tested’
Austin resident Sarah Smith says she got sick with COVID-19 symptoms on March 16, the same day the governor spoke optimistically about testing.
Two days later, on March 18, the symptoms were so severe, she scheduled a appointment with a doctor via Teladoc. That doctor told Smith to get tested.
“I recommend being tested for Coronavirus based on your symptoms and possible exposure.”
The e-doctor from Teladoc also encouraged Smith to go to the drive-thru coronavirus testing available through Baylor Scott & White. Smith went to one near where she lives but was immediately turned away because she wasn’t in their system. The e-doctor had given her bad information.
This is the paper that Baylor Scott & White gives people who show up to a testing site when they aren’t in the system yet:
Smith worked through those steps. She filled out the questionnaire and was told it could be two days before a physician responded because there were 15,000 people in queue.
Despite that, she was seen relatively quickly and had a response from the e-doctor by Thursday morning, March 19.
The Baylor Scott & White doctor told her they had a “high suspicion” she had COVID-19 but she did not meet the testing requirements.
“Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, we are currently experiencing a critical shortage of testing supplies,” the doctor wrote. “Tests for COVID-19 are being saved for critically ill patients who are hospitalized.”
Smith said they were also prioritizing health care workers and the elderly.
She said the only other way to get a test is if you have come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. But Smith said that’s flawed logic if the majority of people aren’t getting tested.
She’s on the mend now and starting to feel better and says she likely will never know if she had COVID-19 or not.
“All in all, it was a scary and isolating experience that leaves you feeling helpless,” Smith said.
Baylor Scott & White says wait times are decreasing
Baylor Scott & White would not comment on Smith’s case, citing privacy laws, but they say wait times are stabilizing:
“Since launching the online COVID-19 screening questionnaire on Thursday evening, March 12, more than 80,000 questionnaires have been completed which have led to nearly 19,000 COVID-19 eVisits completed by Baylor Scott & White providers,” they said in an email to KXAN.
“For a time, due to a significant influx of people concerned about COVID-19, wait times were longer than normal. As of [Sunday] the wait times are closer to normal, but we are still experiencing a slowdown related to high volume. On average, providers are now responding to patients in fewer than six hours.”
Baylor Scott & White said it’s committed to testing patients in accordance with CDC guidelines, but as of March 22, the CDC guidelines under “How to Get Tested” state:
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and want to get tested, try calling your state or local health department or a medical provider. While supplies of these tests are increasing, it may still be difficult to find a place to get tested.
Federal response muddled about testing availability
Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday that people should not get tested unless necessary.
“If you don’t have symptoms, don’t do a test,” Pence said.
But based on Smith’s case in Austin, even those symptomatic who have been told they likely have COVID-19 aren’t able to get tested. President Trump has consistently been adamant that testing has been going well.
“Anybody that needs a test gets a test,” the president said on March 6. “They’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.”
The president has not wavered in the ensuing two weeks that the testing of Americans for COVID-19 is going smoothly, even as those like the vice president have urged people without symptoms not to get tested.
“The testing’s going very well,” Trump said Saturday. “We’re going to be celebrating a great victory in the not-so-distant future.”
But even Republican governors like Gov. Abbott say the testing shortage is at the federal level.
“We are testing to the full extent of testing capabilities at this time,” Gov. Abbott said Sunday. “The problem is lack of availability of those testing resources. And this is a same concern faced by governors across the United States about inadequate supplies of the needed testing resources.”