A Danville number flashed across the screen of Rachael Wilkerson’s cell phone when it rang Friday afternoon. She quickly answered.
The Shamokin woman awaits results of the COVID-19 test she underwent late Saturday at the emergency room of Geisinger Medical Center, Danville. She remains under self-quarantine inside her home.
“They said my swab has not been lost,” Wilkerson, 39, said, disappointed her test results were still unknown six days later.
Wilkerson feared it had been lost. However, she said she was told by a Geisinger employee on Friday that it is in the custody of Quest Diagnostics, which she subsequently learned is located in California, and that results are pending. An answer could come any day, she said, but she doesn’t expect it over the weekend.
“I’m so frustrated and anxious. I think it’s a mess. I understand it takes several days to get tests back, however, we should be informed of the entire chain of where these tests are going,” Wilkerson said.
Geisinger labs process COVID-19 tests in 3 to 24 hours, according to Media Specialist Joe Stender. He didn't provide an estimate when asked about the turnaround for independent labs.
“Geisinger, at this time, is complementing its on-site laboratory testing by partnering with commercial laboratories such as Quest to offer additional options for COVID-19 laboratory testing," Stender said.
As of noon Friday, there were 268 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 across Pennsylvania, according to the Department of Health. One person died of the virus in the state, to date. There have been 2,574 negative tests, the Health Department announced.
Widespread testing isn’t recommended at this point in part due to a lack of widespread availability of testing supplies, Press Secretary Nate Wardle, Department of Health, said earlier this week.
“There are concerns as to the availability of testing supplies for both the actual test by health care providers and running the tests at laboratories. We are going to continue to need to receive the (viral culture) medium and other items necessary to ensure testing capacity continues,” Wardle said.
The state recommends anyone who is slightly sick and believes they have COVID-19 to stay home, according to the latest guidelines released by the state. Call a health care provider first to inquire about testing if symptoms worsen, even if those symptoms wouldn't normally spur one to seek medical attention.
Wilkerson worked as a hairstylist in the Philadelphia suburb of Berwyn until March 7. Berwyn is located in Chester County where, according to the state Health Department, 17 cases of COVID-19 are confirmed as of noon Friday.
She started a new job last week at a Harrisburg salon. On Thursday, she developed a dry cough. She attributed that to allergies and asthma.
Looking back, Wilkerson estimated she could have potentially exposed up to 20 people daily herself. That potential exposure broadens when including the other stylists she worked next to. They’re awaiting results of Wilkerson’s COVID-19 test, she said. The salon owner voluntarily closed the shop, she said.
“By Saturday, the shortness of breath and tightness in my chest was worse. That’s when I went to the ER,” Wilkerson said.
She first consulted with an epidemiologist, she said, who recommended she seek medical help. She didn’t think to call ahead to the ER.
She was swabbed on site. Results returned negative for influenza and other viruses. She was then tested for coronavirus and told she’d hear back within four days. Friday marked day six since her test.
According to Wilkerson, she received a call from the state Department of Health inquiring about her test results. She didn't know, of course, and the state department didn't have the results, either, she said. She said she spoke with nurses on the Geisinger COVID-19 hotline but they couldn't locate her test. She called the Emergency Department, she said, and on their referral called the infectious disease control department. Eventually, she learned they were tracking down the location of the test.
"Okay, this is nightmarish," she wrote on Facebook in describing the scenario.
Wilkerson’s husband and son each are quarantined at home, too, out of precaution. Her husband wasn’t symptomatic and wasn’t tested, she said. Her son was feeling sick and tested positive for a different virus, she said.
They were determined not to need COVID-19 testing, she said. None of the three are currently able to work.
Wilkerson still is unsure if she is positive for COVID-19.
“There is still some tightness in my chest but I think I’m starting to get better,” Wilkerson said.