As coronavirus testing ramps up in Las Vegas, some residents have encountered errors and confusion in the swabbing process used to collect samples and even had to return for a second swab despite a state shortage of tests.
Las Vegas resident Roshie Raissi said she started coughing Saturday but didn’t have a fever. She nevertheless decided to try to get tested because her elderly parents are staying with her.
On Sunday, she heard through some friends that Sahara Urgent Care had drive-up tests and drove to the clinic to find that she was the only one in line. A clinic employee came over to her car, asked for identification and swabbed her nostril.
But the next day, after watching a news conference with federal health officials saying the swabbing would be uncomfortable because it would go into the sinus cavity, she called the clinic saying she was concerned the test was not administered properly. She was told to return for another test.
“She was clueless,” Raissi said of the staffer who swabbed her nasal passage. “She did it incorrectly and didn’t put it nearly far enough in.”
On her return Monday, she said the clinic staff gave her priority because she was there for the retest.
Raissi said clinic staff also told her Monday that Quest Diagnostics, a private testing lab, wasn’t maintaining the swab tests at proper temperatures so there might be additional accuracy issues.
Jose Triana, a manager at Sahara, conceded Tuesday that testing has been a learning curve and that they have had to call some patients back to redo the exam. He did not know how many tests the clinic had conducted or how many had to be re-administered. He said the clinic has enough tests for about 250 patients a day.
“We had some mix-ups and (we) reached out to (patients) to have them reswabbed,” he said. “This is all new to us, but we’re moving forward to make sure people can get tested.”
Wendy H. Bost, a spokeswoman for Quest, responded with an emailed statement:
“Without knowing the specifics of the patient’s situation I’m not in a position to comment on this particular case. However, we have communicated to providers our specimen transport requirements for COVID-19 testing. While we prefer that specimens be shipped frozen, if the provider does not have dry ice, the specimen should be refrigerated (2° C-8° C). Specimens have a 72-hour stability refrigerated.” That translates to 35.6 to 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
Vivian Levisman of Las Vegas said she had been coughing and experiencing shortness of breath since Thursday so she decided to go to Sahara Urgent Care first thing Tuesday after learning it had tests.
Despite coming in before the clinic opened, Levisman said there were more than 30 cars in front of her at the drive-up testing and she had been waiting for more than two hours.
“It’s horrible,” said Levisman, whose husband is a doctor who treats senior citizens. “They aren’t changing gloves between patients and people are getting out of their cars.”
She said she found Sahara through a group of doctors’ wives trading information by text. She is concerned that the state isn’t publicizing places where people with symptoms can get tested.
At about 11 a.m. Tuesday, police arrived to direct traffic at the clinic, she said.
After two and half hours, Levisman finally received her test, but it will take two to three days to get the results.
On March 7, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced that Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp have been provisionally approved to provide testing in Nevada and the Southern Nevada Health District lab will also be getting additional resources to test people with COVID-19 symptoms.
“I agree with Nevada’s residents and their desire to expand testing,” Sisolak said at the news conference, where he declined to take reporters’ questions.
Earlier this week, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported complaints about the lack of access to testing have echoed throughout the state, coming from the governor’s office, county health officials and Las Vegas Valley residents, among others.
On Monday, Southern Nevada public health officials promised more resources for processing tests at their lab in Clark County and announced the state had requested federal aid to increase testing in the area.
SNHD spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said she had not heard of issues at Sahara. She recommended people contact their doctors if they need treatment and to be assessed whether they need to be tested.
“Not everyone is advised to seek medical care,” she said. “If you’re having mild symptoms, stay home and stay away from people.”
Sizemore said she did not know how many tests are available in Southern Nevada.
Raissi said she had heard that the testing would be free, but when she showed up Sunday to Sahara the clinic wanted insurance information or for her to pay. She provided her insurance. President Donald Trump said last week that anyone can get a test, but federal public health officials said it had to be prescribed by doctors. Triana said the Sahara clinic is only providing tests to people with symptoms.
But Triana said Quest has committed to free testing and the request for insurance information was just a “backup” measure. Patients will have to provide identification so the clinic can ensure they know who they are testing, he added.
Raissi said there were no other customers at the clinic when she went Sunday for her drive-through test, but when she returned for her second test Monday it was packed with people and the clinic had set up a tent with tests that they would collect and then walk to people’s vehicles for the swab.
Triana said the clinic is trying its best to test patients to help provide information that will hopefully slow the outbreak. But they only have so many tests.
“It’s really, really busy,” Triana said. “We have a limited supply.”
Contact Arthur Kane at email@example.com. Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter. Kane is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing. Support our journalism.