Why can’t everyone get tested for COVID-19?

DODGEVILLE, Wis. — A nationwide shortage of COVID-19 test kits is leaving an impact on Wisconsin hospitals and who they can treat.

Chances are you know someone who has symptoms of coronavirus but can’t get tested. Hayden, a 24-year-old UPS driver from Dodgeville, is one of them. His mom, Maschielle, talked to us about his experience.

“Achy, sore, coucghing is one of the major [symptoms,]” Maschielle said. “It was just a persistent cough – it wouldn’t go away, and he was coughing so much his rib cages were hurting.”

Hayden stopped going to work because of his symptoms, but he still couldn’t get tested.

“That’s what’s so disconcerting to us, because this is something he’s not been able to get rid of,” she said. “We’ve talked to three different triage nurses, and they will not test him.”

Across town, another 24-year-old had a very different experience. Sydney Schulte is a nurse who came down with symptoms about a month ago. She was able to get in for testing immediately.

“It took anywhere from 36 to 48 hours to get my results back, and of course they were positive,” she said.

Two essential workers, the same age, with similar symptoms – what’s the difference?

Across the state and country, health care providers are making the decision on who should get tested – because testing kits are not always readily available to the hospitals that need them. In addition, Wisconsin’s labs have reported that the number of specimens it has received has exceeded their daily capacity. The state’s Department of Health Services says the national supply chain for tests is fragile, and because of that, it’s prioritizing who gets a test with a four-tiered system that hospitals statewide are using.

Tier 1 includes hospitalized patients who are critically ill and symptoms of COVID-19. This mostly means people in the ICU. Tier 2 mainly covers health care workers with symptoms — like our helper, Sydney. That’s because they’re in contact with so many patients, they could spread the virus more easily. Tier 3 and 4 cover people in the community with varying degrees of symptoms and underlying medical conditions.

Upland Hills Health in Dodgeville is seeing the impacts of that shortage.
“We’re down to 147 test kits,” said CEO Lisa Schnedler. “We have to hold those for patients who are in-patients who are symptomatic, healthcare workers so they don’t become vectors to spread that to other patients, and the occasional patient in the community.”

Upland Hills is hoping to get more test kits in soon. They’ve had shipments ordered for the past month, but there’s no clear timeline on when they’ll arrive.

Meanwhile, Sydney is starting to feel better and was planning to be back at work within a week. Hayden has been diagnosed with bronchitis but still has not been tested for COVID-19.