Statement from a Quarantined Kaiser Nurse in California

On March 6 2020, an Imgur post with the title “Thank god for unions, but damn” appeared, purportedly showing a statement “by a quarantined nurse from a northern California Kaiser facility.”

The statement was dated March 5 2020, and the text in the image read:

As a nurse, I’m very concerned that not enough is being done to stop the spread of the coronavirus. I know because I am currently sick and in quarantine after caring for a patient who tested positive. I’m awaiting “permission” from the federal government to allow for my testing, even after my physician and county health professional ordered it.

I volunteered to be on the care team for this patient, who we knew was positive. I did this because I had all the recommended protective gear and training from my employer. I did this assuming that if something happened to me, of course I too would be cared for. Then, what was a small concern after a few days of caring for this patient, became my reality:

I started getting sick.

When employee health told me that my fever and other symptoms fit the criteria for potential coronavirus, I was put on a 14-day self-quarantine. Since the criteria was met, the testing would be done. My doctor ordered the test through the county.

The public county officer called me and verified my symptoms and agreed with testing. But the National CDC would not initiate testing. They said they would not test me because if I were wearing the recommended protective equipment, then I wouldn’t have the coronavirus.

What kind of science-based answer is that? What a ridiculous and uneducated response from the department that is in charge of our health in this country.

Later, they called back, and now it’s an issue with something called the “identifier number.” They claim they prioritize running samples by illness severity and that there are only so many to give out each day. So I have to wait in line to find out the results.

This is not the ticket dispenser at the deli counter; it’s a public health emergency! I am a registered nurse, and I need to know if I am positive before going back to caring for patients.

I am appalled at the level of bureaucracy that’s preventing nurses from getting tested. That is a health care decision my doctor and my county health department agree with. Delaying this test puts the whole community at risk.

I have the backing of my union. Nurses aren’t going to stand by and let this testing delay continue; we are going to stand together to make sure we can protect our patients—by being protected ourselves.

Claims made in the letter were not uncommon in late February and early March 2020 reporting on the novel coronavirus strain (COVID-19), the public health response protocols, and a shortage of tests. On March 6 2020, NPR reported limited ability to test for COVID-19 in at least six states:

More laboratories around the U.S. are finally gaining the ability to test for the coronavirus disease, after what Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, calls “missteps” in the federal government’s plan to create, produce and distribute tests.

Six U.S. states — Alabama, Maine, Ohio, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming — currently have no labs with the verified ability to run COVID-19 diagnostic tests, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday afternoon.

“We’re not there yet, but soon,” Fauci said of the effort to make testing more widely available.

As NPR’s Allison Aubrey reports, “Some academic hospitals are developing their own tests and commercial options are expanding really quickly.” The results, she adds, “can take three or four days” before they’re reported to local health officials and the CDC … Vice President Pence acknowledged a shortage of tests on [March 5 2020], saying, “We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.”

A March 6 2020 article published by The Atlantic also focused on insufficient availability of tests for COVID-19 across the United States. Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Thomas Frieden compared the CDC’s testing response to COVID-19 with that of previous outbreaks:

On [March 2 2020], Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, estimated that “by [March 6 2020], close to a million tests will be able to be performed” in the United States. On [March 4 2020], Vice President Mike Pence promised that “roughly 1.5 million tests” would be available [that] week.

But the number of tests performed across the country has fallen far short of those projections, despite extraordinarily high demand, The Atlantic has found.

“The CDC got this right with H1N1 and Zika, and produced huge quantities of test kits that went around the country,” Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC from 2009 to 2017, told us. “I don’t know what went wrong this time.”

Testing-related coronavirus news and rumors were themselves endemic in the first week of March 2020, with one thread on Twitter about the subject of COVID-19 tests in Seattle spreading virally. We also examined claims that the CDC removed figures to do with testing from their website between March 1 and 2 2020 — which the agency did.

According to The Atlantic, discerning how many Americans had been tested for the novel coronavirus strain was not a straightforward undertaking. However, the report managed to verify that only a few thousand Americans had been tested for coronavirus. At the time the information was removed from the CDC’s site, that number was just under 500:

Through interviews with dozens of public-health officials and a survey of local data from across the country, The Atlantic could only verify that 1,895 people have been tested for the coronavirus in the United States, about 10 percent of whom have tested positive. And while the American capacity to test for the coronavirus has ramped up significantly over the past few days, local officials can still test only several thousand people a day, not the tens or hundreds of thousands indicated by the White House’s promises.

To arrive at our estimate, we contacted the public-health departments of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We gathered data on websites, and we corresponded with dozens of state officials. All 50 states and D.C. have made some information available, though the quality and timeliness of the data varied widely. Some states have only committed to releasing their numbers once or three times a week. Most are focused on the number of confirmed cases; only a few have publicized the number of people they are capable of testing.

By and large, news stories about COVID-19 testing strongly suggested that states were profoundly underprepared to test individuals exposed to or exhibiting symptoms of the novel coronavirus strain, a claim echoed in the statement reproduced above.

As for the statement purportedly made by a quarantined California nurse exposed to and exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, it was correctly attributed. A March 4 2020 press release on announced a press conference the following day, March 5 2020. The document was available verbatim on their site as a PDF, also titled “Statement by a quarantined nurse from a northern California Kaiser facility.” In the release, the organization urged the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to step in, asserting that data showed that “hospitals are unprepared [and] confirm little planning, poor communication, and shortage of equipment” around the COVID-19 outbreak.