Covid Testing and Contact Tracing

Credit: Centers for Disease Control

Symptom Check: Before I get into today’s post, I thought I should share an update. I am currently 68 days since I first had symptoms and 64 days since my positive test. As of today, I still do not have my taste and smell. I have fleeting moments when I can taste or smell something, but it is never quite right. I am usually tasting nearly nothing, and the things I am smelling don’t match what is in my environment. If I am smelling floral perfume I am likely to also get a headache. Sometimes I am smelling food cooking like I am at a diner. Last night I was able to smell the lotion my husband had put on his hands. It lasted maybe thirty seconds, but it was an exciting development.

The rest of my symptoms are hard to track because they mix with arthritis symptoms in some ways. The Topamax still is fighting the worst of the headaches, but there is occasional breakthrough pain. The neuropathy throughout the body is pretty extreme at times. My hands and feet seem to suffer the most, especially with the cold and damp weather. Either way, I have never had such extreme issues prior to Covid. I also go through stages where I feel like my body is vibrating. Other Covid patients have commented on this, and I recognize it from arthritis flares in the past. Regardless if the symptoms are Covid, arthritis or both, it has added an extra layer to what I deal with on a daily basis.

But now on to the real thing: Testing and Contact Tracing

At this point in the pandemic, besides waiting for a vaccine and waiting for more developments in medicines, testing and contact tracing is what is going to get America back to work and back to school. Testing and contact tracing will get people traveling. It is so obvious it is mind boggling to me why a greater emphasis has not been placed on this at every governmental level.

Very early in the pandemic, developing tests should have been a priority. Perhaps it was, but the tests we have always had have been faulty, slow in available response, and limited in supply. As time has passed, I assumed this would get better. I assumed tests would become more accurate, the results would be available more quickly, and the supplies would increase – this also proved to be false. My own story makes this problem abundantly clear. We did not need to test until the end of August. I had to drive to four locations to get a test. One of my family members had a lost test. Test results took 3-4 days to come back. My insurance was charged $150 for my “free test”.

This is not just a federal failure. It started there, but at some point states had to pick up the slack. Were they prepared? Probably not. Did they have the money? Maybe some did more than others. I am in a relatively wealthy state by comparison. My governor bragged of chartering a plane to buy his own PPE for our state since it wasn’t being made available from the federal government. These heroic moves are welcomed for sure, but how about tests? We have world class universities in our state. We have Abbott Laboratories. I could go on, but the reality is, once it was clear the federal government was washing its hands of its own citizens, we needed our states to respond. That response has varied, and I won’t comment on it here. This is ultimately about testing and contact tracing in Illinois.

So we now have a scenario where testing is not wide spread, the results can’t be trusted, and they take too long to come back to the patient. They really aren’t providing the information we need. Let’s then segue that to contact tracing. Its August 27th, and I now have my CVS pharmacy positive test. As of August 24th, my kids had two Illinois Department of Public Health positive tests. August 31st, my husband has a hospital positive test. Not one person was called, emailed or texted for contact tracing. We were stunned. We have been hearing about contact tracing since the beginning. Thousands of jobs were created in Illinois to do just this. I know people that applied for these jobs. Two months later and the only place that has contacted us is the Red Cross asking for our antibodies.

The only contact tracing I have observed has been our local high school. Early in August, there was an event that created a community outbreak. This same outbreak might have indirectly caused us to be infected but we aren’t entirely sure. The event ended up infecting several high school students right as school was about to start in person on a hybrid schedule. When the high school attempted to contact trace, they were met with families that lied about or flat out denied any involvement. Families refused to cooperate with the school and became hostile whenever anyone tried to get involved. Our local positivity rates spiked, and my daughter has yet to return to the classroom this school year.

I am frustrated on many levels. The lack of quality and quantity of testing this late in the game is inexcusable to me. If our politicians would stop campaigning and start running the country we might see actual movement in this area. Contact tracing at the local level should also be a priority. Along with this comes educating people about why testing and tracing is so important to not just our health but to the economy. This is the easiest and fastest way to get people back to work and to get kids back to school. I wanted to scream at the Presidential Debate last week wondering why not one of the candidates could articulate the obvious connection. Countries that have aggressive testing and tracing programs have been able to resume a somewhat normal life. I believe we can too. But when?

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