Stories of Santa Barbara’s Coronavirus Testing Shortage: ‘Exhausting and Infuriating’

Four Residents Who Think They Or a Loved One Are Sick

A healthcare professional gives a COVID-19 test to a patient at Samsun. Test are given to only those that have an appointment. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

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Like their counterparts across the country, Santa Barbara physicians are struggling to identify cases of COVID-19 due to a chronic shortage of tests. They’ve been forced to save their limited supply of kits for only the sickest and oldest patients and tell others to ride out their symptoms at home. This has caused considerable anxiety throughout the community. No one blames the doctors and nurses themselves — who have been working long hours under considerable pressure — yet the frustration remains. These are four stories from residents who think they or a loved one may be infected but can’t get tested. At their request for privacy, their names have been changed.

Sophia

Our family traveled to London and Amsterdam last month and arrived home February 23. A few days later, my husband, our 12-year-old son, and I had what we thought were allergies. My husband’s and my symptoms subsided, but my son developed a fever on March 13. It went up to 102 degrees and lasted for three days. He also had a headache, runny nose, and lots of coughing.

I found CottageCare, which provides an online appointment screening for $29. I was hopeful that he could be tested since he had been in school and was active throughout our community prior to the fever onset. Unfortunately, the CottageCare doctor said that he wasn’t eligible since he did not have contact with an infected person.

I’m left wondering: How would one know if they were in contact if our community is being denied testing?

Colleen

My 82-year-old father was taken by ambulance from my parents’ home on March 16 with COVID-19 symptoms — a cough, chills, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. He is at extremely high risk as an older adult with diabetes and lung disease. It took over 12 hours at the hospital to get him into a room.

The hospital did a CT scan and said he likely has metapneumovirus, an upper respiratory infection, and therefore they did not need to test him. But from what I understand, a CT scan cannot definitively rule out coronavirus.

The hospital felt overwhelmed and understaffed. I should mention that neither the ambulance EMTs nor doctors were wearing protective gear, despite my mother warning them of a potential COVID-19 case.

My father was discharged the next day. According to my mother, the nurses told him, “If you’re feeling better, we could really use the bed.” We are still worried about him, and the experience has been exhausting and infuriating.

Shaun

My girlfriend returned to Goleta at the beginning of March from studying abroad in Europe and has all the symptoms of the coronavirus. But her doctor said she can’t get tested because she’s only 21 and doesn’t have other health problems. I’m very concerned because she lives with two other roommates. She has been self-isolating, but they have not, and now one of them is also sick. He can’t get tested either.

David

I am a 68-year-old Santa Barbara resident. In the middle of last week, I started experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. I have a deep cough, fatigue, and a fever between 100 and 102. I called my doctor, and he said I should get tested for COVID based on my symptoms and being in contact with a high-risk person (my 94-year-old mother) the week prior (before we understood how serious this is).

A COVID-19 screening nurse from the hospital called with a questionnaire. She ran through my symptoms — check, check, check — but when she got to the final three questions (if I had traveled to China, South Korea, or Italy in the last two weeks; if I had any underlying health issue; or if I had been in contact with a positive case), I answered no. The nurse said I scored 4 out of 5 on the questionnaire so was not eligible for testing.

The doctors and nurses have been very helpful, but I don’t understand the questionnaire. Unless you answer yes to one of the last three questions, you won’t be tested. But because there has been so little testing, how is a person supposed to know if they have been in contact with a positive case? I might be infected and I might have given it to my mother. It’s very scary.

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