Catch-22 on coronavirus tests

It’s a harrowing story. You have most of the symptoms of coronavirus. You’ve self-quarantined at home for two weeks. You’re not getting any better. But the local hospital can’t test you for the disease until you’re in intensive care.

This is what Boston microbiologist Amy Proal described Monday night on Twitter as she posted about her two-week long struggle with her boyfriend, who also has symptoms of the respiratory illness. Her boyfriend went to see a doctor without a mask. After waiting with other patients who were worried they had the virus, he was told he can’t be tested because he hasn’t been in direct contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

“Instead of going directly home, they gave him a script for an inhaler and told him to go to CVS. The situation is ridiculous. Why did his internist’s office have someone with COVID19 symptoms come in, not test him, and then send him to a crowded pharmacy? I am very angry,” Proal tweeted.

Proal’s story illustrates how difficult it can be for someone who thinks they might be infected to be tested to know for sure.

When the virus initially hit the US, federal health officials restricted testing to the point that even those who had returned from countries with serious outbreaks could not get tested unless they were hospitalized. The president has incorrectly suggested anyone can get a test with a physician’s permission. The situation was also bungled in February when the Centers for Disease Control sent out flawed test kits to states.

The US is performing five coronavirus tests per million people, compared to 347 in the United Kingdom, 826 in Italy, and 2,692 in South Korea. The Atlantic reported that, as of Monday at 4 p.m., it could verify that only 4,384 people nationwide had  been tested for the coronavirus. “The United States remains dangerously limited in its capacity to test people for the illness,” the magazine reported.

Last week, Dr. Larry Madoff of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health told lawmakers at a public health hearing that the state has “overcome” obstacles about rolling out testing at the state laboratory. Federal criteria for testing had broadened by last Friday, giving doctors more discretion in ordering tests. Madoff said the combination of more test kits and more flexibility in ordering tests should increase the amount of testing being done.

“Right now, the biggest resource constraint that we have is the ability to do widespread diagnostics,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, told WBUR last week. More diagnostic tests are needed immediately — or rather “yesterday,” she said.

The number of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts hit 41 on Monday, according to new Department of Public Health figures that also show four of those people have been hospitalized for their symptoms. The majority were related to a Biogen employee conference held in Boston in February.

For Proal, there is some hope. Tim Allen, chief operating officer for LifeHope Labs in Atlanta, saw her tweet thread and offered to send her a coronavirus test kit on Twitter. The laboratory has developed a Centers for Disease Control-approved method of testing. Processing can be done in under four hours, resulting in hundreds of kits being tested a day. As of a few days ago the lab said it was working on final numbers for the price of the kit, but they’re estimating it will cost less than $250.



Advocates push for a big boost in the size of welfare payments, which have not increased in 20 years. (CommonWealth)


Boston Mayor Marty Walsh cancels the St. Patrick’s Day parade out of “an abundance of caution,” which raises the question of whether other large gatherings of people, such as the Boston Marathon, will soon be next. With NYC leaders urging people to avoid the city’s subway if at all possible, will that recommendation be coming to the MBTA? (CommonWealth)

While other states declared states of emergency, Gov. Charlie Baker was on a family ski trip in Utah. He cut the vacation short and returned to Boston on Monday. (Boston Globe)

The stock market had its worst day since 2008 during the financial crisis. (NPR)

President Trump, who has long subscribed to discredited theories that vaccines cause autism and once bragged about never having gotten a flu shot, keeps demanding fast action on a coronavirus vaccine, while showing a limited understanding of science. (New York Times) Trump tweeted a meme of himself fiddling, an apparent reference to Roman emperor Nero, but seems unaware that this is not a flattering comparison. (Boston Globe)

Israel takes the step of quarantining anyone who enters the country for 14 days. (WGBH)

Springfield public schools are ending buffet-style meals in the cafeteria due to coronavirus. (MassLive)  Meanwhile, Quincy has its first coronavirus case, and two Fall River Public School office employees are self-quarantining. In New Bedford, the International Seafood Buyers Luncheon, which for years has showcased the city’s fishing industry and seafood processing plants, has been cancelled.

The AP looks at the thorny question of what types of workers are able to work from home, and who has to show up at work.

It’s impossible to buy hand sanitizer and disinfectant these days. (Telegram & Gazette)


After a series of scandals, the Springfield police are purchasing body cameras. (MassLive)


US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says “civilization as we know it” is at stake in the election. (State House News Service)

US Sen. Ed Markey unveils “New Deal” legislation for immigrants, shifting focus from enforcement to support. (CommonWealth)


Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders face off in six state primaries today, with all eyes on the biggest prize of Michigan. (Washington Post) Black women voters have been a key driver of Biden’s resurgence in the Democratic presidential primary. (Boston Globe)

Massachusetts voters set a new turnout record in the Democratic presidential primary. (MassLive)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tells a conference at Northeastern University that the country can’t withstand another four years of Trump. (Boston Globe)

Angus McQuilkin, a gun violence prevention advocate, announces a Democratic primary run for Congress against Seth Moulton. (Gloucester Daily Times)


The Cape Cod Commission has unanimously approved Mashpee Commons’ eligibility for a development agreement, moving ahead plans to expand the shopping and housing center. (Cape Cod Times)


Lynn’s high schools partner with YouthHarbors to provide housing and counseling services for homeless students. (Daily Item) State data on student homelessness, which many believe are not up to date, indicate Lynn has more homeless students than any other community. (WGBH)


The fast-growing MBTA operating budget raises sustainability questions, even as the Fiscal and Management Control Board complicates the situation by moving to increase funding for the development of fares based on a person’s ability to pay. (CommonWealth)

T notes: Boston ranked worst in the nation for congestion for the second year in a row….A new report from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation recommends income-based commuter rail fares…New part being fashioned for Orange Line cars. (CommonWealth)


Attorney General Maura Healey calls for expanded carbon pricing in New England to speed production of electricity produced with clean energy. Her recommendation matches that of the regional power grid operator, who she has criticized in the past for standing in the way of clean energy development. (CommonWealth)

Columbia Gas pleads guilty in federal court to breaking a pipeline safety rule, resulting in the 2018 gas explosions. It will pay $53 million and sell the Massachusetts company. (Eagle-Tribune)

State Reps. Chris Hendricks and Paul Schmid III are questioning how transparent Parallel Products has been when it comes to its expansion plans in New Bedford, which include the construction of 19 exhaust stacks. (Standard-Times)


Norfolk District Attorney MIchael Morrissey has concluded that police were justified in shooting a Mattapan man last month in a confrontation in Brookline. (Boston Herald)


The Kansas City Star is eliminating its print edition on Saturdays starting March 14. (Kansas City Star)

Sanjay Gupta explains why CNN is calling the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. (CNN) It’s not easy covering the spread of coronavirus. (Columbia Journalism Review)