It's been a busy week for newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wyoming. Still, many in our state are wondering why so few tests have been administered. State Department of Health Spokeswoman Kim Deti told Wyoming Public Media that amid a shortage of tests, medical providers are prioritizing those at highest risk.
"People who are connected with long term care facilities, that's one of the strongest examples. People who are hospitalized with an unexplained illness and symptoms consistent. Those kind of things," Deti said.
But one COVID-19 patient in Lander - who is part of a cluster of 8 residents and staff at Showboat retirement center confirmed to have the disease - was initially passed over for a test.
That's according to that woman's daughter, Tesla Meyer. Meyer told Wyoming Public Radio's Savannah Maher that her mother had a severe cough, and rode a Lander Senior Citizens Center bus to St. John's Medical Clinic for treatment.
Savannah Maher: What did you think when your mom told you she wasn't feeling well, and that she was going to a doctor's appointment?
Tesla Meyer: I told her, 'Well, they'll probably send you to the hospital and probably put you in quarantine.' And she was kind of shocked. She's not really up to date on what's going on. So she went to her appointment, then she called me later telling me, 'Yeah, they sent me to the hospital.' Called me less than an hour after that saying that she's done and she's ready to come home. So I go pick her up, and she's got a mask on. It's kind of dangling off her face, because she has her oxygen on too. So, I get her in the car, get her walker in the car, and ask her, 'Did they give you any test?' And she was like, 'Well no, they said I have an infection in my lungs or my chest, and they gave me antibiotics.' And so, I take her back to the Showboat. And then later that evening we found out you know, that there was a person in Fremont County with a confirmed case of the coronavirus.
SM: So when you got that news, what was going through your mind?
TM: Since they sent her home from the hospital without testing her, I wasn't worried about her having the coronavirus, really. Because I trusted them to test her if they needed to. The next morning, my friend texted me and said 'Hey, I'm not trying to be an alarmist or anything, but I did hear that the first case was a resident of the Showboat.' And so I called the ER [at SageWest Health Care] first, just to make sure. I talked to an ER nurse and she said 'No, we didn't test her, she didn't have a fever, she didn't have pneumonia, she seemed to be doing okay. So, we're saving the tests for people who are really sick.
SM: How long was it between when you learned, from a friend, that it was somebody at Showboat -- how long after that did you actually hear from the retirement center?
TM: Well, I contacted them and they confirmed that it was a resident of the Showboat who was the first case in Fremont County, and that they were on lockdown and the Wyoming Department of Health was on their way. And I understand they were dealing with something that they've never had to deal with before. And I'm not blaming the showboat, I'm blaming -- I feel like the Wyoming Department of Health could have done more to keep in contact with me.
SM: So then the state Department of Health came in and started doing interviews. Do you know when they tested your mom?
TM: Yeah, they tested her on Saturday I think afternoon. They said the test results should be back Monday. I guess it was Monday night when I found out that there seven more confirmed cases, through County 10. And not by anybody calling me. I mean, [County 10] didn't of course say any names or anything. But of course, my first assumption was 'Oh yea, well my mom has it, then.' I still called the Showboat. I called, and it was just busy. And I called a bunch of times. And it just was busy every time. So, I was trying to call everybody I could. I called the Wyoming Department of Health. They told me to call 2-1-1, I didn't get any information there. I called the ER [at SageWest] to see if my mom had been admitted, and she hadn't. I didn't know what else to do, so I just did what I could and went to bed that night. The next morning I finally got through [to Showboat], about 9:30, where someone answered. And I was like, 'So, is my mom infected? Does she have the virus?' and [the nurse] was like, 'Yes. She does.' And so, they told me she was resting and drinking fluids and she was doing fine. I called later and asked if they would go check on her. And the nurse checked her oxygen level and it was really low. And so I was like, 'If it was your mom, would you call an ambulance?' and she was like, 'Yes.' So I was like, 'Okay, I'm doing it.' At this point still, nobody had contacted me to confirm and say 'Hey, your mom has the virus.' The only person who told me this was a nurse at the showboat who I think is just a fill-in. She normally preps their meals.
SM: And so now your mom is in the ICU [at SageWest]. How is she doing?
TM: She says she's feeling a little bit better than she was yesterday, but not much.
SM: And it must be very difficult not to be able to visit her at all.
TM: Right. I know it's the safest thing to do, to keep away from there. I don't know if I'm sick, or my partner. We both have slight symptoms. But we're still at our house on lockdown right now and quarantined. Yesterday actually, we emailed the Wyoming Department of Health and they were like, 'Sorry we didn't get ahold of you.' Because I did voice my concerns, saying I don't understand why nobody has called me. My mom has the coronavirus, and I had to jump through hoops to find that out. And so, I mean when I asked her about testing, she said I could go get tested if I wanted to but that it wasn't necessary. Which, cool, if I don't have to leave my house, fine. But the testing situation is really messed up
SM: So what needs to change? If you could say something to public officials in Wyoming that are handling this pandemic, what would you say to them?
TM: First of all, I think that we need to get more testing. I mean, I'm sure there are a lot more people out there that are infected and walking around and spreading the disease and don't even know it. And I mean, it's really ridiculous that it took so much for me to get that information that I needed to make sure that my mom was okay. I am her emergency contact, and nobody contacted me. And that is a problem.
Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Savannah Maher, at firstname.lastname@example.org.