Countless people who suspect they might be infected by the contagious coronavirus have been unable to get tested for the respiratory disease it causes.
McKenzie Lautt is one of those fortunate enough to get tested — but she’s among a group of Sanford Health patients who initially numbered more than 300 waiting for results from a private laboratory in California.
The wait has been anxious and the lack of answers has been frustrating for the 22-year-old Concordia College student, who was studying abroad in England when the pandemic erupted.
She flew home on March 15 and has been running a fever since March 17. Lautt is staying in self-quarantine with her mother, who picked her up at the airport in Fargo, at a friend’s cabin near Detroit Lakes.
When Lautt gave a nasal swab specimen at a Sanford Health drive-thru collection site in Fargo on March 18, she was told to expect results in three to seven days.
“Obviously we understand how chaotic and hectic the health system is right now,” with health providers hampered by a short supply of test kits and, in some cases, a backlog in receiving lab results, Lautt said Wednesday, March 25.
Sanford said the delay in test results sent to the laboratory firm, Quest, has been disappointing and out of its control. The original backlog of 344 had dwindled to 219 as of late Wednesday morning, and continues to diminish as results come in, said Dr. Doug Griffin, Sanford’s chief medical officer in Fargo.
“We have corrected this by providing our own COVID-19 testing at Sanford labs and we are offering to retest patients awaiting results at our Sanford lab free of charge,” he said. “We apologized to the patients and have kept them updated, including McKenzie, staying in touch to monitor their symptoms, and provide further care if needed. When we called the patients waiting for results more than 90% were feeling better.”
On Saturday, March 21, Lautt received a call from Sanford informing her that the wait for her COVID-19 test result would be another four or five days on top of the three to seven days originally anticipated.
It’s been difficult getting answers about when she can expect results.
“My family and I are really getting frustrated with the lack of communication and answers,” she said. “If this isn’t coronavirus, obviously I’m sick with something else and would love to begin treatment as I’ve been sick for over a week at this point. Because I do not want to spread the virus if I am positive, I cannot see a health professional to find out what is wrong with me.”
Also, she added, the delay in test results for such a large group of patients “really gives our state an inaccurate picture of how many positive cases actually exist.”
Sanford regrets any anxiety caused by the testing delay, Griffin said.
“We understand there is some anxiety and are telling patients they should continue to self-quarantine or call their doctor if their symptoms have changed,” he said.
Besides a fever, Lautt is experiencing body aches, headaches, a “bit of a sore throat,” and some chest tightening.
She was tested for influenza A and B, both of which are negative. “We’re still hoping that it might come back negative” for COVID-19, she said.
Lautt has decided to come in for a re-test Wednesday afternoon. Test results from Sanford's own labs typically are available within 24 to 48 hours.
Lautt has been spending much of her time in isolation doing puzzles, connecting with family and friends via FaceTime, and going for walks.
“We’re going a little crazy, but we’re doing OK,” she said. “Surprisingly, we’ve watched only three movies over this time.”
So far, Lautt’s mother is not showing any symptoms. “She’s as of now feeling fine,” Lautt said. Her mother is an “integral part” of the family’s business in Harvey, N.D. “Her being away put a strain on that. It’s been a strain on our family,” she said.
A senior at Concordia majoring in business, marketing and communication, Lautt was studying at Liverpool Hope University. She said she was in contact with two people who she believes tested positive for COVID-19.
“I’m surprised I don’t feel worse,” despite her chronic fever, she said.
The disruption forced the cancellation of a family get-together. Some members of Lautt’s family had planned to travel to England for a visit, and her mother was going to stay longer for a mother-daughter trip to Greece.
“Now we joke that this is our mother-daughter bonding,” Lautt said.