The World Health Organization has declared the COVID-19 outbreak an international pandemic. As of Wednesday, it has infected more than 121,000 people and killed more than 4,000 worldwide. In LA County, the number of confirmed cases stands at 27, including one death. The most at risk are people over age 60, pregnant people, and those with underlying health conditions. As of Wednesday, facilities across the United States are unable to process testing kits. In California, a shortage of reagents — chemicals that are critical to the testing process — has meant thousands of kits are inaccessible.
Valerie Ewald, who works in the Intensive Care Unit at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, has been fighting off a cold for a few days. She says she’s concerned that she hasn’t been able to get tested for COVID-19.
“They're not testing people,” she says. “If I was just to go to my own doctor's office, they would just tell me to go home.”
Nurses have reported other alarming circumstances in medical facilities. National Nurses United, a union that represents nurses, found in a survey that several of their members don't have access to equipment like N-95 masks and gloves, which protect them from the virus.
Ewald says that she’s heard from nurses who are working without the equipment.
“At smaller community hospitals, apparently they don't have the access to all the equipment that we do, and that is a major concern,” she says. “If you're in the E.R. somewhere or even if you're at one of the nursing homes, you may not know that you're taking care of one of these patients. And if you don't have the equipment nearby, you're putting yourself at risk, your patients and other patients.”
Ewald says that the limited amount of tests available makes the coronavirus much more dangerous.
“It's really important that we advocate that we have a government that follows those kinds of guidelines and acknowledges this is a public health emergency,” she says. “People do need to get tested because that'll give us a better idea of the overall rate of it. Right now, we're not really sure how many people are walking around carrying it. Our government needs to keep working on us and keep the politics out of it and just focus on it as a public health emergency.”