Allie Vruggink and her boyfriend, Jeremy Quillian, followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus guidelines fairly rigidly, so they isolated themselves in their home in Holland, Michigan, when they were told a friend may have exposed them to the virus.
They decided to get a test, but were able to get one quickly only because Quillian appeared to have symptoms: headaches, a cough and loss of taste. Since Vruggink works for a hospital, she was able to get a test that provided results within 24 hours. Even though Quillian, who works in construction, had symptoms, he was told his results would take longer — 48 to 72 hours.
But after 72 hours, Quillian didn’t have his results. He now felt fine, and because Vruggink’s test came back negative, Quillian’s boss asked him to come back to work. Unsure whether the couple could afford any more missed days of pay and believing their results would be the same since they lived together, Quillian returned to work.
Two days later, he got his results: positive for the coronavirus.
“Because Michigan had a big blowup of cases, I guess there were more tests than they could handle. Even now, I think it’s about a week’s wait for most people,” Vruggink said.
More than eight months into the pandemic, the United States’ testing infrastructure is again being challenged. While there are tests available, the country’s testing system is struggling to catch up to the worst public health emergency in modern history — even as experts have warned repeatedly that the winter would be a tremendous challenge. Now the U.S. is regularly reaching a record number of deaths and hospitalizations each day.
The lack of a coherent national strategy, experts said, is causing the wheels to fall off the system at large. The inability to quickly and efficiently test large swaths of the population has frequently blurred the path forward, and it foreshadows challenges in the eventual distribution of a vaccine.
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