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She had clear COVID-19 symptoms and an at-risk family, but she couldn't get tested, anywhere

Posted at 4:39 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-23 16:39:01-04

HUDSON, Ohio — Diane Nielsen had a fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Her son has a heart condition that can lead to inflammation and heart failure. Plus, she's caring for her 103-year-old mother who lives with them.

Yet, despite clear symptoms of a possible COVID-19 infection, and family members in a high risk group, Diane could not get tested. Anywhere.

Her story underscores the fear and frustration many are finding when seeking COVID-19 testing, but the combination of factors in her case have contributed to nearly a week of living in constant fear of passing the virus to her son and elderly mother.

As a registered nurse who understands how the disease spreads, it's been the week from hell.

It all began last Tuesday while at home in Hudson and she "began to feel achy and tired."

Within a few hours, Diane's fever jumped to 101 and she "developed a very bad headache and chest pains."

As a nurse, Diane swung into action. First, dialing up a treatment hotline her doctor's office provided - but was quickly told there was "no testing available in Summit County."

So, she called the Cuyahoga County Board of Health where she learned of two drive-up clinics "that only tested if her doctor was with the Cleveland Clinic or University Hospitals."

Growing increasingly frustrated, she called her doctor again.

This time, Diane was told to immediately go to Summa Akron City Hospital.

Diane and her daughter, who was also exhibiting symptoms, took off for the hospital ER where an influenza screen was done, but where they were told "COVID-19 testing was unavailable unless you were admitted."

Instead, they were sent home and told "to self-isolate for 14 days."

At 2 a.m Wednesday morning, Diane went online to a Cleveland Clinic Express Care website and was advised she "fell into the moderate risk category" and a "COVID-19 test was ordered".

Still, they were never tested.

After waiting in lines at a Cleveland Clinic test site, with a doctor's note, they were told testing was limited to those over 61 years of age.

At a University Hospitals test site she was told "only UH patients" could be tested.

"I started crying in the car," Nielsen said.

So they returned home to Hudson, still symptomatic and fearful of infecting both her son and elderly mother.

Since then, Diane and daughter have remained in self-quarantine inside their home but she remains the only caregiver for her elderly mother, who so far has not exhibited any symptoms.

"I consider myself lucky," Nielsen said. "I've now gone three days without a fever" along with her daughter.

While at home, she reached out to the CDC, who advised her she could come out of quarantine tomorrow provided she "remains fever free for 72 hours and symptom free for at least seven days after symptoms first appeared."

Still, it has been a frustrating week.

"It would be nice to know whether it was COVID-19 for the sake of my family," Nielsen said. "There's just nothing we could do because they did not have enough testing."