- Coronavirus testing across the United States has generally improved from the early months of the pandemic, but many Americans are still struggling to get accurate and timely results.
- Kevin Rutkowski of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, told Insider he was tested on August 6, and over the next two weeks was given three different results from three different people.
- One contact tracer told Rutkowski’s wife, Lora Nigro, that Rutkowski was positive. A government employee later told him he was negative, and another government employee was later unable to find his results at all and said the data had gone missing.
- Rutkowski described the experience as “a s—show.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When Kevin Rutkowski got tested for COVID-19 in early August and asked about his results, he received three different answers from three different government employees.
A contact tracer told Rutkowski’s wife, Lora Nigro, over the phone that Rutkowski had tested positive. But days later, someone at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services told Rutkowski his test was actually negative.
When a different health department representative called Rutkowski later that day, the employee told him his test results had been lost altogether and that the data appeared to be missing, Rutkowski told Insider in an interview.
In total, it took two tests and roughly two weeks for Rutkowski to confirm that he was, indeed, negative for the coronavirus, and could safely return to his job at a local technical college.
Rutkowski was initially tested on August 6, the same day as Nigro, who received her positive test results by August 8. Though Nigro developed a fever and some mild respiratory distress, Rutkowski said he never had any symptoms â€” so when he initially heard his test result was positive, he assumed he no longer had to distance himself from his contagious wife.
But the saga to obtain his accurate results so that he could return to work was nothing short of “a s—show,” he told Insider.
“My frustrating part was just that I would have liked to know the results of the way I tested a little earlier. I probably would not have let my guard down around my wife, after a week or so, not knowing if I was still negative, not knowing if I’m going to get it later and test positive,” he said. “It just keeps you in this kind of quiet anxiety. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
COVID-19 testing may have improved since the early months of the pandemic, but experts say it’s not enough to contain the spread
Rutkowski’s scramble to learn what happened with his COVID-19 test is not unique. Even as coronavirus testing across the country has markedly improved from the early days of the pandemic, data and interviews with patients show that many are still unable to access timely results â€” and those delays are affecting Americans’ ability to work, attend school, and spend time with their families and friends.
More than six months after the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping across the US, speedy and accurate testing remains out of reach for many, even as businesses and schools reopen and Americans return to their day-to-day lives.
A recent nationwide survey of 19,000 US residents conducted by researchers from Harvard University, Rutgers University, Northeastern University, and Northwestern University found that the average wait time to receive COVID-19 test results was roughly four days.
The survey also found that 10% of people waited at least 10 days for their test results. That turnaround isn’t nearly fast enough to effectively contain the virus’ spread, according to the researchers.
“Rapid turnaround of testing for COVID-19 infection is essential to containing the pandemic,” the researchers wrote. “Ideally, test results would be available the same day. Our findings indicate that the United States is not currently performing testing with nearly enough speed.”
By the time Rutkowski learned he tested negative, so much time had lapsed that he needed another test to confirm he was still negative
Rutkowski said his testing struggles began even before he received a test â€” initially, he was unable to accompany his wife to the clinic where she was tested. He said he was told that tests were reserved for symptomatic patients only.
Instead, Rutkowski had to take an Uber seven miles away to a site where the Wisconsin National Guard was conducting free COVID-19 testing. To avoid alarming the Uber driver by requesting a trip to a well-known COVID-19 testing site, Rutkowski requested he be dropped off at the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant next door instead.
Rutkowski said the testing process itself went smoothly and he appreciated how calm and relaxed staff were as they tested people who arrived both in cars and on foot.
But when he heard completely different results from different employees, Rutkowski said he grew frustrated.
“At that point I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? So now I’m negative?'” he said. “I’m like, ‘Come on. This was two weeks ago. Two weeks later, I might be positive now.'”
Rutkowski said his second round of testing went much more smoothly than the first â€” this time he received his results within a couple of days. He was negative again.
From personal experience, Rutkowski told Insider he feels strongly that local businesses and restaurants shouldn’t have to shut down simply because a single customer or employee tests positive for the coronavirus â€” particularly when people like him are receiving inaccurate results.
Rutkowski suggested he would prefer if the COVID-19 testing process was run more efficiently.
“I think it’s completely unfair for businesses to have to shut down for two weeks. I’m very empathetic to that,” he told Insider. “People still have to live.”
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that while Americans are waiting for their COVID-19 test results, they stay home and away from others, monitor their health, think about who they have been around recently, and answer the local health department’s call if they call for contact tracing.
Have you had a frustrating or interesting experience with getting a COVID-19 test in the US? Contact this reporter at [email protected]
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