As Vt. ramps up testing, access still a challenge for some

Published: Mar. 31, 2020 at 5:46 PM EDT
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As Vermont ramps up COVID-19 testing capacity, health officials say it is a key part of their strategy to flatten the coronavirus curve. But some say it can still be a challenge getting their doctor to sign off.

Bruce Babbitt's morning started with a drive down from Grand Isle to the UVM Medical Center's COVID-19 testing site in Essex Junction. He's been ill ever since he and his wife got back from Europe on March 13.

"I had low-grade fever, kind of a persistent cough, kind of cold symptoms, but I got real bouts of lethargy, lack of energy, no appetite, and occasional kind-of cold chills," Babbitt said.

When he called the Vermont Health Department on March 16, he was told his symptoms weren't severe enough for testing. "I just felt like I wanted to know for my own benefit, for my wife's benefit, for my family's, and I was pretty convinced I had it," Babbitt said.

Now that people like him with moderate symptoms can get tested, he can find out for certain. The former WCAX employee agreed to record his test for us because he wants others to know that while a swab up the nose is definitely uncomfortable, it's nothing to fear. "I'm a big wuss and I tolerated it quite well," he said.

With his test now out of the way, the waiting game begins. Babbitt says he thinks he'll have results in about three days. Data from the test, along with hundreds of others, helps the health department track where the coronavirus is in Vermont.

So far more than 4,200 people in Vermont have been tested for coronavirus. Of those, nearly 300 are positive.

"Early and broad testing is a proven strategy to limit the spread of the virus," said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine on Monday. He said testing isn't treatment, but it helps. "Vermont is still early enough on the curve of positive cases that we hope that increased testing can have a large impact on our ability to flatten the curve."

Babbitt says he's been in quarantine ever since he got back from traveling. He understands the state has limited testing resources, but had hoped for answers sooner.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Do you think the state should have started wider testing earlier?

Bruce Babbitt: Probably, yes.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: What would it have done for someone in your situation?

Bruce Babbitt: I don't think it actually would have changed much because I was playing by the rules.

While more Vermonters are getting tested, we're still hearing from many viewers who say that they can't because their symptoms have to be severe. That's in contradiction to the health commissioner's message from last week. When asked about that Tuesday, health officials reiterated that it's a doctor's decision that determines whether someone gets tested. But they did say they have sent a "large number" of guidance alerts out to let physicians know about the expanded testing.