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Concerns over lack of tests, testing supplies makes getting a test difficult

Nurse prepares culture swab for taking sample from patient for testing.

On Sunday night, her son’s fever spiked, and in the morning he woke with body aches, a sore throat and a bad headache. 

The mother, a nurse practitioner in the Birmingham area, told APR on Tuesday that she’d spent the morning trying unsuccessfully to get her 10-year-old tested for COVID-19. 

She wasn’t able to, in part because drive-thru testing at the Church of Highland’s Grandview campus closed after hundreds of cars clogged U.S. 280, cutting off access to and from a nearby hospital. 

But there are also concerns over a lack of tests and testing supplies in Alabama and across the country, and public health officials cautioned that those without symptoms don’t need to be tested, which could overwhelm a system already under strain. 

She first called a pediatrician and was told the office couldn’t help her.

“They’re seeing patients with fever via telehealth, they will not stop for strep or flu,” she said.

She was told to call Urgent Care for Children, which is operating drive-thru COVID-19 testing for people up to 20-years-old, but her son wasn’t experiencing a cough at the time, so she was turned down for a test. 

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“She said we have a limited number of tests, which is completely understandable,” she said. 

Her son has since developed a cough, so she tried to get him tested at the Church of the Highland’s Grandview campus only to find herself stuck in traffic next to others on U.S. 280, who seemed to also be trying to get to the church.  

“I saw people enjoying conversation and laughing, and I saw a lot of people smoking cigarettes out of their car windows,” she said. “There’s no way that all these people meet criteria for testing and I’ve got a sick kid in my backseat.” 

By the time she got up to the intersection, police officers were telling drivers that the testing site was closed. 

“They didn’t say why at the time, but it was very clear to me, looking at Grandview hospital, that this was really compromising access to the hospital,” she said. 

Attempts Tuesday to reach the church were unsuccessful, but reports that the church will move the testing to the church’s Grants Mill Road campus and reopen for testing on Wednesday. 

She said they’ve left a message with Urgent Care for Children and will try there again on Wednesday since he’s developed a cough. 

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“So I’m hopeful, but if that doesn’t pan out, I have no idea,” she said. 

As a health care provider herself, the nurse said she’d like to see more communication to the public about who needs to be tested and who doesn’t. 

“Try to keep people from panicking, but we need more tests, and we need more testing capacity,” she said. “It’s not just the test, it’s the people who are going to process those tests.” 

That’s a concern expressed by Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, head of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who told reporters Monday that the state simply doesn’t have the staffing and resources to test as quickly and as widely as is needed. 

Marrazzo urged the public to seek a test only if they have symptoms, which are fever, shortness of breath and a cough.

It’s a message echoed by other state health officials in recent days who have pleaded for the public to first call the state’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-264-2256 before driving to a testing location. 

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Tuesday told reporters that we’re seeing long lines in the drive-thru test center yet people are still having trouble getting a test. 

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“I’ve got a friend who sent me a text just a moment ago, who’s been trying to get a test for five days. Now she’s got symptoms, she’s got a fever, she’s got respiratory issues, but she can’t get a test,” Jones said. “And that is in part because so many people are willing to get tests that don’t really have any symptoms and aren’t really sick. I’m not criticizing. What I’m asking people to do is to hold back if you don’t have a fever and respiratory issues.”

The nurse said she also worries that if there’s a panic, asymptomatic people could flood emergency rooms and primary care offices, which would cut off access to care for people like her son, whose fever had come down some Tuesday afternoon. 

“He’s probably improving, and I hope that will continue, but again, I don’t know. I can’t be certain of what it is without testing,” she said.

After 3 hours on hold with Urgent Care for Children, the nurse said she was able to get her son an appointment to be tested later on Tuesday. 

“That took far too much effort for someone who even knows how to navigate the healthcare system. I can’t imagine what it’s like for those uninsured,” she said.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.



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