OutbreakCoronavirus, COVID-19 and Chicago

Testing Still Hard to Come by in Chicago and Illinois

By Natasha Petrenko, Kateryna Maslovska and Myles Franklin-Bey |  @RedLineProject | Posted: Friday, May 8, 2020


Loyola University junior Jasmine Puria took a trip to Miami, Florida, for her spring break at the end of February, not thinking anything of it as the United States had just a small number of COVID-19 cases. 

She felt fine when she returned in early March, but a week later she had common cold symptoms. Just a few days went by and it progressed. She began to worry as she retraced her steps. 

“I was very fatigued after doing just simple things and I was showing other symptoms of COVID-19,” she said. “I also had found out that my roommate had indirect contact with someone in Chicago who tested positive.” 

Five days later, Puria was tested for the coronavirus, and a few days after that she got some good news -- the results were negative.

Puria was one of the lucky ones, getting a test very quickly amid a global pandemic where testing kits aren’t readily available in the U.S.

According to the CDC, the number of individuals tested for COVID-19 in the U.S. is 3,024,059 since March 1, 2020. With rates like that requires a lot of time for testing. Drive-through testing centers are located all over the state, but were hard to come by in mid-March.

Garima Pudasaini, a physician at John H Stroger Hospital of Cook County, said some test results arrive in three to five days, but some, such as Cook County Hospital, can turn them 16 hours.

“The tests used to be sent to outside labs, but now the hospital has in-house testing so it has become faster,” Pudasaini said. 

Testing is starting to become more available in all of the United States, but it is still very difficult to get tested. However, not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19, experts say. The CDC recommends for those with mild illnesses to stay home and practice social distancing

The CDC recommends those with COVID-19 symptoms call their state or local health department or a medical provider. 

Pudasaini said that recovery time for patients with COVID-19 depends on the severity of the disease. Mild disease can last up to seven to 10 days while moderate to severe disease can last longer than two weeks, depending on the patient's condition. 

She  recommended staying home, eating healthy, minimizing unnecessary contacts with people, avoiding contact with persons at households who are at risk of developing severe disease like elderly people, people with obesity, diabetes, lung disease, heart disease and liver disease.  

“We advise treating mild disease symptomatically with Tylenol for fever ... drinking lots of fluids, keeping hydrated,” Pudasaini said. “For moderate to severe disease, we admit the patients and keep them under strict isolation and manage according to the severity with oxygen, antiviral or immunomodulators and manage the symptoms. Patients might need ICU care for severe disease.” 

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that are common in both humans and animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control website. There are seven different types of coronaviruses found in humans, four of which are common and mild. However, the other three are much more serious such as MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2, which causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The novel coronavirus leads to COVID-19 which is an infectious disease that was originally thought to have been spread from animals to humans because it is common in animals such as cats, bats, camels, and cattle. 

Due to travel, COVID-19 has spread much faster and stronger than anyone would have imagined. According to the Johns Hopkins website, there are over two million confirmed cases and thousands of deaths worldwide

To put the growth rates in perspective, the WHO reported that there were 228 total confirmed cases on Jan. 20, and on April 29 there were 3,024,059 total confirmed cases

There are now over 1.1 million confirmed cases in the United States alone. With the total deaths closing in on 65,000 nationally, New York has been hit the hardest of the 50 states with over 165,000 reported cases, according to the CDC. 

Symptoms of the coronavirus have been described as very similar to flu symptoms, and include cough, fever and shortness of breath, and in some cases lack of taste and smell. But there are also chances of testing positive for the virus while not showing any symptoms. It is very important to stay at home and limit contact with others as there is currently no way to be certain who is carrying the virus and who is not.

Because of the symptoms of COVID-19 being very similar to flu symptoms and some allergy symptoms, as well as some people even being asymptomatic, COVID-19 was able to spread quickly. Testing was very limited in the United States during the early stages of the pandemic, leaving many wondering whether they had the virus or not. And leaving no way for them to know for sure.

This was Puria’s situation when she returned from Miami. She quickly contacted her parents in Nashville, and her father drove straight to Chicago to make sure she could get home without posing risk to others as she did not know if she was positive for the virus. 

“When I got home I went straight into my room to be quarantined,” she said. “My mom is a physician at a hospital associated with Vanderbilt University so she was able to get me an appointment to get tested very quickly. The test itself was very uncomfortable,” explained Puria. “The nurse inserted a long cotton swab first in my throat and then pretty far up one of my nostrils. The nurse also administered a flu test before the COVID-19 test.” 

Puria got tested on March 16, but at that time it took longer to get test results. She had to wait about 48 hours.

“I immediately went back into quarantine after I got tested,” she said. “I was in quarantine the day before as well so that I wouldn’t infect anyone in my family.”

Those who test positive are urged to stay home and keep in touch with their doctors if they have minor symptoms. However, when symptoms are most severe those with COVID-19 may need hospitalization and ventilator access.

Testing for COVID-19 has been continuously evolving since the beginning of the pandemic. In Puria’s experience, testing results for COVID-19 took two days, which is a long time to wait for testing results for this sort of virus. 

Renee Kunkel, a Chicago Clinical RN explained that there is now rapid testing but it may not always be reliable.

“The other ones we usually give about 24 hours because they look at chest X-Rays and other stuff too,” she said. 

According to the World Health Organization, the incubation period for COVID-19 is said to be one to 14 days. That means in the past, someone could get tested for COVID-19 and then contract the virus during the waiting period for their results.

This created a lot of problems in terms of public perception of the virus and testing for it. Because it took longer than a day for results to get back, those looking to get tested would either need to stay overnight at hospitals for their results, or go back home and isolate themselves from everyone. The latter option became more prevalent once hospitals began filling up with patients and running out of available ventilators.  

While many during the pandemic wear masks for protection, Puria cautions to keep your diestance.

“Please take social distancing seriously. Fortunately for me, my results were negative, but if they were positive I would have been fine,” Puria said. “We need to strictly practice social distancing because if young people, 18 to 25 have the disease but don’t know it and end up having contact with multiple people, you could infect so many people and possibly loved ones who are more at risk of having complications if they contract the virus.” 

What to do to avoid catching the coronavirus

According to the WHO, the risk of getting sick can get higher if a person neglects the basic rules of wearing a face mask. We prepared an infographic that shows you four steps of the proper way of using the medical mask.

Remember five essential rules that will help you to stay away from the COVID-19.

  1. Do not touch your eyes, nose, and mouth. 
  2. Consume thermally processed food only.
  3. Always wash your hands with warm/hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Avoid crowded places.
  5. Wear a medical mask when you are sick or in contact with a sick person. 

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