I Was Exposed to COVID-19 and No One Wanted to Test Me

Drei Marghitas, 27, says he began coughing a few days after attending a friend’s birthday party on February 29. At the time, the novel coronavirus wasn’t widespread in Arizona—where Marghitas lives with his six-week old son and fiancé—but he self quarantined in a spare bedroom. The Phoenix resident had read about the novel coronavirus spreading throughout the world and wanted to be cautious.

Marghitas later says he learned that a friend from the birthday party tested positive for COVID-19, and Marghitas wanted to get tested, too. His experience of trying to get tested in Arizona—and having COVID-19—has inspired him to plan the launch of a YouTube page with workout videos for people who have temporarily lost their fitness studios or gyms during the pandemic.

The Moment He Got Scared

At a birthday gathering in February, Marghitas shook hands with a friend and they both went on about the party that night. But the Wednesday after that, he noticed he was feeling different:

I had these mild symptoms—very light sore throat, minimal cough, fever—just anything that you’ve ever experienced when you have a cold. And, you know, I have a one-month-old son, and he doesn’t have an immune system yet. It’s just me, my fiancé and him. And so I said, I’m going to stay in one of the spare bedrooms. I didn’t want to put them at risk.

COVID-19 symptoms run the gamut. Some people feel totally normal while others may have trouble breathing and require hospital care. Generally, people experience a dry cough and fever—like in Marghitas’ case.

The following morning, I went into Urgent Care with a mask and gloves on. I said, “Hey, I’m showing some mild symptoms and I’m kind of scared of this whole coronavirus stuff.”

They’re like, “Yeah, you’re probably fine. I’m sure you just have a cold or flu. Coronavirus is not really here.”

They took my temperature. They took my blood pressure, and when the doctor came in, they did the regular checkup. I was hesitant to bring up coronavirus because I didn’t want to sound silly. It was embarrassing you know? Is this guy crazy?

I brought it up anyway—more as a joke just to get the topic of conversation started. She [the doctor] just laughed and was like, “There’s no way. It wouldn’t be possible because only one person [here] has it.”

It really put my mind at ease that everything was fine. I went back home, but I still went back into the room that I was staying in to avoid my family.

Later that night, my friend who I shook hands with at the party posted a video saying he was the second one to have it in Arizona. Obviously, I started getting a lot more concerned because I interacted with him, then got sick 3 or 4 days later. The timeline really added up.

Coronavirus research is emerging. A recent study indicates it takes about 5 days, on average, for patients to experience symptoms after they’ve been exposed to the virus.

The Hunt for a Test

The next day I started calling around to see where I could get a test. I called the CDC and was on hold for 48 minutes. An employee explained to me that I should use soap to wash my hands and an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

I said, “Hey, I feel sick, and I shook hands with somebody who has coronavirus. What do you mean I should wash my hands? I think it’s a little too late for that.”

She was very nonchalant and told me to contact the Arizona Health Department. I reached out to them and explained the whole story, and a nurse there said that there’s a zero percent to almost zero percent chance that I would get the disease caused by the new coronavirus. At first, I felt at ease. Then as the conversation progressed, I realized she didn’t have any of the answers that I was asking for. I started to lose faith in the idea that that I hadn’t contracted COVID-19.

I don’t have a primary care physician, so I called one of the hospitals. They didn’t offer a test, so I called another hospital, and another hospital, and another hospital. I eventually called one of the emergency rooms that told me not to go there because I would contaminate everybody. I asked her what I should do.

She said, let me ask you this, “What would you do if you had the flu?”

I responded, “Well I’d probably stay home.”

“Exactly,” she said, explaining I needed to self-quarantine. “Just stay home.”

And I tried to explain to her that my workplace found out that I was in direct contact with somebody who was confirmed to have the coronavirus, I was banned for 20 days, and they sent everyone to work from home. Schools are shutting down in the United States. I don’t think this is like the flu.

Across America, there’s a shortage of COVID-19 tests. Anyone who experiences mild symptoms should self-quarantine, according to the CDC. State health departments set their own requirements for testing using CDC guidelines.

I made 9 or 10 more calls—the CDC, the Arizona Health Department, emergency nurse lines, emergency rooms, and urgent care. Everyone tried to get me off the phone and said to call someone else. I still wanted that test.

Finally, when I called the HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center in Phoenix—eight days after I had started to feel sick—someone at the emergency nurse line said, “I think it’s fair that you know. I think you deserve these answers. What you’re saying makes a lot of sense to me, and I’m sorry nobody has helped you.”

What Came After

When I got to the hospital, they were still hesitant to test me, but eventually they took me to the emergency room. Everyone who came in was wearing kind of hazmat-like equipment: eye protection, arms covered, full gloves on as they’re testing me.

I had been sick for eight days at this point. They come in with this giant Q-tip looking thing that’s like three to four times longer than a Q-tip. They shove it all the way up your nose. Ten minutes later, the doctor came back and told me I tested negative for the flu. He said that he contacted the Arizona Health Department, and they made a decision to get me tested.

The test was on a Thursday and on Saturday at 8:30 a.m., I got a phone call from the hospital that I tested positive for the coronavirus. A couple hours later, the Maricopa County Health Department called me and asked how I thought I got it. They sent me an email with follow-up guidelines of what to do.

Marghitas traced his case back to the party, which is helpful for monitoring symptoms and getting tested, but some people may develop COVID-19 without knowing when or how. The novel coronavirus is mainly passed to others through close contact. However, it’s possible to get sick by touching contaminated objects—like door handles—which is why experts warn about the importance of hand washing.

If my friend didn’t publicly announce his diagnosis, I would have never gotten tested.

Keep calling and calling and calling. Push the envelope. Know the facts. You’re going to get no— it’s not going to be easy.

Limited testing makes it difficult for sick people to get an official COVID-19 diagnosis. If you suspect you have the novel coronavirus, experts recommend self-quarantining. Here’s how.

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