A Westporter’s Difficult Journey Through The COVID-19 Healthcare System

The Westport woman felt fine on Monday.

She played tennis, as she does nearly every day. She took her 2 kids — both Staples High School students — to various activities.

But when she got home later that afternoon, she felt sick. Her temperature was 102.4. “I never get a fever that high,” she says.

She went to bed. And she worried.

Three days earlier, she played tennis with someone from Central America, who had a cold. Her kids’ friends are in and out of the house constantly. And she herself has asthma.

She called her primary care physician. The advice: Take Tylenol and Advil.

Two days later — Wednesday — she heard the news that COVID-19 is definitely in Westport. The schools were shutting down.

She called her doctor’s office again, and asked to be tested. She was told they have no testing kits — in fact, no physician around here does.

And because of her exposure to someone from another country, they said she could not come to the office. Instead, she should go to the Norwalk Hospital emergency room. They — along with Bridgeport, St. Vincent’s and Greenwich Hospitals — have “drive-by” testing, the doctor’s office said. She would not even have to get out of the car.

The office promised to call the hospital, alerting them she’d be there soon.

At Norwalk Hospital, the woman told the valet she’d been expected. He had no idea. He summoned a nurse.

The nurse told the Westporter there was no drive-by testing. She had to park, and go to the ER waiting room.

South Korea has plenty of drive-by testing sites. The United States does not.

She did. A nurse took her pulse, and said, “You know, you won’t be getting the coronavirus test.”

The nurse at the emergency room desk confirmed the news. The only people they’re testing, she said, are those who are pale, have blue skin, and/or an oxygen level below 90.

But the nurse never asked the Westport woman if she’d been exposed to anyone from a foreign country. Or if she had pre-existing respiratory issues. Or anything else about her condition.

She did say that the woman’s primary care practitioner was “not informed” about Norwalk’s procedures. The nurse “heard” there was drive-through testing at Greenwich Hospital. But definitely not Norwalk. (An announcement yesterday confirmed that drive-through testing is available in Greenwich — at a primary care facility, not Greenwich Hospital — as well as Stamford and Stratford. Click here for details.)

The woman was taken to a private room, with a sealed door. She was left there for an hour.

Finally, she opened the door. “Is anyone coming in here?” she asked.

“Close the door!” someone yelled.

The only communication she had was by phone. Finally, a doctor entered. He wore a hazmat suit.

He told the woman, “you won’t be tested. There are only 600 kits in the entire state.”

COVID-19 tests are scarce. There may be only 600 in all of Connecticut.

The woman told a nurse, “Vice President Pence said anyone can get a test.”

“I know,” the nurse replied. “I don’t want hysteria, but people need to know: It’s not true. We’re not equipped for this.”

She did get tested for the flu, and strep throat.

As she was leaving, the woman saw 3 elderly patients on stretchers. They were being transferred to other hospitals.

While waiting for her discharge paperwork, the woman learned that a nurse had run out of containers, for a coronavirus test she had administered to someone. So the nurse taped the swab next to the bed, until the test dish arrived.

“They don’t want people just showing up at the hospital, unless you’re over 70,” the woman says. “They’re not ready for this.”

She is glad she went. She got an Albuterol inhalation prescription, for her asthma.

But, she says, “You don’t want to go to the hospital — especially if you have no underlying health issues. Just isolate yourself.”

Self-isolation is not easy. But it’s important.

Back home, she took off her clothes in the garage. She took over the master suite; her husband is using the guest room, and using a different bathroom. She’s not letting her kids hang out with anyone outside the family.

She also called her physician’s office, and told them they’d given her the wrong information. They were appreciative, the woman says.

Now, her fever has broken. She just feels tired, and has a sore throat.

“I’ll be fine,” she says. “But I want people to know what’s happening.”

She pauses.

“This is not good.”

Alert “06880” reader Chip Stephens sent along this helpful symptoms chart, from WebMD.


33 responses to “A Westporter’s Difficult Journey Through The COVID-19 Healthcare System

  1. This update by the woman is extremely helpful and eye opening. Thanks for sharing. I would appreciate any updates from others on the availability of coronavirus testing in Fairfield County.

  2. Charles Taylor

    Thanks Dan

  3. Melissa Augeri

    Thank you to our fellow Westporter who took the time to document the details and share with all of us – even when not feeling well. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

    • Miriam Young

      Agreed. To everyone at the party who has shared their experiences- Thank you for helping your community stay safe! To the woman who threw the party if you read this- you’ve done NOTHING wrong and this unfortunate situation was all slowed by your quick and vocal action.

  4. We keep hearing from Washington that we are the greatest country in the world and, yet, we are woefully unprepared for a crisis like this. It is unconscionable that we don’t have tests ready for everyone.

    • Bob Stalling

      Regarding test kits,
      I could be wrong, but I think it’s would have been difficult to mass produce and stock pile test kits in order to be prepared for a strain of virus that didn’t exist. If that is the case, we should now be stockpiling test kits for the next unknown pandemic.

      • The U.S. did NOTHING for weeks as the Coronavirus was spreading through other parts of the world. We were told it was a hoax, told it was the flu, told it was nothing.

        We didn’t accept the WHO’s testing kits, preferring to have the (understaffed, thanks to budget cuts) CDC develop their own.

        The administration cares more about the number of diagnosed cases, as it will reflect on the administration and less about the health and safety of Americans.

        • Actually the USA has NEVER used WHO tests. For whatever reason, that’s our protocol. Why the swine flu tests and subsequent vaccine took so long – more than 6 months – to be distributed. I know it’s easy to politicize everything these days BUT that’s not very productive. Social distancing presumes everyone has the virus and this, everyone takes precautions. In the absence of a vaccine, testing while helpful, isn’t going to remedy one who has the virus.

        • Actually the USA has NEVER used WHO tests. For whatever reason, that’s our protocol. Why the swine flu tests and subsequent vaccine took so long – more than 6 months – to be distributed. I know it’s easy to politicize everything these days BUT that’s not very productive. Social distancing presumes everyone has the virus and this, everyone takes precautions. In the absence of a vaccine, testing while helpful, isn’t going to remedy one who has the virus.

  5. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    This is very eye opening. In a wealthy area like Fairfield County you’d expect she would have had a better experience than this. I currently reside in rural central Texas and can only imagine what the state of preparedness our medical providers…yikes! Glad I’m retired and can stay isolated on my ranch. Wishing her a speedy recovery and stay safe everyone.

  6. Michael Calise

    They are testing at the WWHD

    • Unfortunately, not really. The Westport Weston Health District received 40 kits yesterday. They used them to test all the people who had been at that party last week, or had other possible strong exposure. They’re waiting for the next shipment of kits, and will be prioritizing tests based on symptoms, exposure, etc. To get on the list for a possible test, call 203-227-9571, ext. 237, and leave a message. I’ll put all that info in a story that I’ll post shortly.

  7. Thank you Dan & Chip. You both caring neighbours we should all be proud to know.

  8. Thanks for sharing. Glad she is feeling better. Thanks to Chip for that helpful chart which I have also sent to my young adult children.

  9. This is shocking that people aren’t able to get confirmed diagnoses of Coronavirus. However if people are sick and believed to have it/aren’t sure they have it, are they self-isolating for two weeks? This woman said she is keeping her kids away from others but did not mention if she plans to isolate for 14 days and if her husband is staying home from work? Not to be an alarmist but what is the protocol if we can’t get confirmed diagnoses?

  10. Saw a drive through testing kiosk in the Westport Weston Health Clinic parking lot yesterday. The gowned and masked testers (who looked very cold out there!) said they were testing only for those on a doctor referred list.

  11. Nina J. Marino

    Thank you so much Dan for posting this story. So informative and you’re giving us real facts ! I also appreciate the chart from Web MD. So helpful in clarifying the differences between covid 19 and the flu.

  12. Jason Desser

    This story is not at all unique, I’ve read others that follow this same pattern. The CT state epidemiologist said in a press conference yesterday that “you don’t need a test to tell you that’s what you have. You should assume that’s the illness that you have.” (full article: https://ctmirror.org/2020/03/11/connecticuts-3rd-covid-19-case-was-contracted-locally/)

    The state has capacity to test 60 people a day right now, and labs don’t have capacity to process more than 1,000 or so a day nationwide. They are only testing critically ill patients. he vast majority of people who contract this – and there will be millions of people who do – will not be counted in the official figures. Most will have mild symptoms and be fine, but high risk individuals (underlying conditions, elderly) may need hospitalization… that’s the whole point of why everyone is staying home right now, to “flatten the curve” and prevent mass runs on hospitals that overwhelm the system.

    Unfortunately… the system is probably already en route to being overwhelmed. We bought a big bottle of Tylenol and ordered cough medicine from Amazon, and made sure all of our prescriptions (including inhalers) are filled. The government was completely unprepared for this and most of us are going to have to ride it out on our own.

  13. When my doctor or Urgent Care have called ahead to the ER, the Valet Parking people don’t know anything, l think that would be a breech of HIPAA if they were given your name, But the people at the front desk in the ER should know you are coming and speed up your being seen.

  14. Gil Ghitelman

    Great reporting Dan! You are my unsung hero today and every day.
    Stay safe.

  15. Leslie Riback

    I would like to know why the physician’s office would send her to a hospital when all issued information has clearly stated NOT to go to the ER. I hope she called the MD’s office and told him/her to stop giving advice that is incorrect and much more problematic than helpful.

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      The post says she did just that, right before the chart. This resident was responsible, as I’ve seen from the vast majority of our neighbors.

  16. Hanne Jeppesen

    I live about 30 miles north of San Francisco. A popular radio talk show host, was out for about 2 weeks with supposedly the flu. She was back on the air last week, this week she has been out again. She called in to the radio station this morning. Her story the same, she didn’t meet the criteria for being tested, despite being over 60 and having type 2 diabetes. She finally got a doctors appointment today, she is feeling miserable, cough, shortness of breath, she does not think it is the corona virus, but is frustrated and scared, because she cannot get tested.

    I work for Macy’s in this area. Last night employees received an email from out CEO, he was more reassuring than President Trump. He assured us they have a special team following the latest news, and can respond quickly and accordingly, he also did not sugar coat anything, but acknowledge that it an
    unsettling situation and there is much we don’t know.

  17. Kelsey Martin

    Writing as a mom, doctor (hematologist/oncologist) and Staples grad here…
    Firstly, thank you to the Dan and this person for sharing their experience.

    If you have questions or concerns about Covid-19, Yale New Haven Health System has opened a call center for patients and the community to answer your questions and help triage patients. Please call the YNHHS call center at 833-ASK-YNHH (833-275-9644) or visit http://ynhhs.org/covid19 for more information.

    What I am telling my patients and their families: Practice social isolation! Avoid gatherings, hugs, handshakes and touches, maintain a distance from others and importantly if you do not really need to see the doctor, consider rescheduling your visit, call the clinic, ask if there is a tele-health option, postpone if not urgent. Practice good hygiene, with increased hand washing. Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others. Limit non-essential travel. Cancel and move all of your gatherings to virtual.

    The reality is we have limited resources. There is a capacity to our healthcare system. We don’t have enough masks for doctors. We have a limited number of testing kits. The private sector is ramping up test kit productions as are hospital-based tests. The drive through testing will hopefully continue to be successful – the ones in place are doing an excellent job in this uncharted territory. Expect an increase in Telehealth, video chats with your doctors.

    VERY IMPORTANT: Call ahead and notify your healthcare team if you have a fever or symptoms of a respiratory illness – this is how we keep everyone safe. The recommendations of how to appropriately triage patients is rapidly evolving – we can hope that the process goes smoothly, but expect bumps along the way. Each hospital system is learning from each other’s experiences.

    In this rapidly evolving situation, we must remain vigilant in doing whatever we can to protect the health and safety of our healthcare providers and the people we care for. Our recommendations from today may change quickly and it will also be important to remain open minded to this concept of flexibility, knowing this can be scary and unnerving.

  18. Christine Freeman

    I heard that each testing kits contains 600 tests. Can someone in authority confirm? Is there documentation?

  19. Joyce Barnhart

    Isn’t it true that the value of tests for COVID19 is so public health agencies can track and monitor the illness? But nobody has said there is a remedy like an anti-biotic as there is for strep throat or Lyme Disease, for example.
    Therefore having a test and getting confirmation that you have the illness does little for you because what you do is stay home and avoid infecting others, whatever illness you have – COVID19 or chicken pox. You can’t get a medication that will cure the illness, but the public health people will get some information. If you get very sick your symptoms are treated – oxygen, fluids, whatever. You won’t get a medicine to cure you because none exists. From a public health point of view learning who has the disease, where, and how long it lasts is valuable, but for an individual having a test that says you do or do not have the bug doesn’t mean much to you and your treatment.

    • Hanne Jeppesen

      As l mentioned in my earlier comments l work for Macy’s as a sales associate. I get 3 paid sick days per year. However in these unusual circumstances we can get up to 2 weeks paid sick leave, but l sure management wants some proof

      • Joyce Barnhart

        If you self-quarantine and stay home from work management would probably want proof that you had COVID19. Maybe you should find out soon how/when you can get tested if you think you have it before you’re too ill to get out for the test.

  20. Hanne Jeppesen

    Yes, I’m sure management would want proof. I’m pretty sure I don’t have it, I have no symptoms, I have never had the flu and have not had a cold in almost 10 years. Although I’m past 60 I’m not panicking, but I am concerned, and try to be cautious. However, as a sales associate I cannot work from home, I work on the lower level and the bathrooms are two floors up, so running up and washing hands all the time is not very practical. Macy’s management has assured us they are stepping up cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and are being very proactive.

  21. Amy Pietresanta

    Hi — thanks so much Dan, you’re the best! 🙂 I did have one question though… I’ve been hearing on NPR that social distancing really doesn’t mean isolation. This is an example of what I heard yesterday quoting health officals in WA state — which seems contradictory?


    “Many are wondering: What exactly is “social distancing?” Can my children still go on play dates? Or is it screen time, all the time?

    The idea with closing schools is to limit the number of social contacts. That is what is going to be most effective in slowing the spread of this disease. But we want to acknowledge that staying with immediate family only might be hard to enforce for more than a few days.

    Luckily, public health officials in King County, Washington, offer this helpful guidance:

    “Social distancing doesn’t mean you have to stay stuck in your house. … The current recommendation is to avoid large groups. That mostly means groups over 50 people but conservatively means anything more than 10 people. However, if you don’t fall into the high risk group, you can still certainly visit each other.”

    Think of it as a good opportunity for one-on-one hangouts.

    Also, be extra mindful of grandparents, neighbors, friends and people with compromised immune systems. They are the most vulnerable in this outbreak. Instead of a face-to-face visit next week with Nana and Papa, try starting a video-chat habit: Try coloring together, cooking or reading aloud.”

    • Thanks, Amy. I sure don’t have an answer either. I think everyone is flying blind, but doing the best they can. There seem to be “absolute best practices,” and “practices that acknowledge reality.” Even in places like Wuhan, which locked down the city, what did that mean? How did people get food? How did people produce food? What happened when a pipe broke, and a plumber was needed? How did essential healthcare workers get to and from work, and who took care of the transportation system so they could get back and forth? Who pumped gas? Etc., etc., etc.

      I’m trying to provide as much information as I can, without overwhelming people. I did hear on TV that even 70% compliance makes a huge difference in slowing the spread. Obviously, that can’t be the general message, because a lot more than 30% of the population may then place themselves in that 30%.

      Bottom line: Who knows? Sorry for the non-answer, but the more people who ask, the more we might figure all this out together.