Michaele and Robert Layng, sitting from left, pose with their children Annalise, 15, far left; Emantu, bottom center, hugging the family’s black Labrador dog, Moose, and friend’s yellow Labrador, Phil; Emantu’s twin brother, Finan, standing right center; and Harper, 13. The family was staying at a friend’s residence in Skowhegan on Friday. The family recently returned from the Congo and had been unable to be tested for coronavirus. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

As testing capabilities for COVID-19 are expected to become more accessible, one family recently returning to Maine from the Democratic Republic of Congo says that they had to jump through hoops to get tested.

Robert and Michaele Layng and their children — Annalise, 15, Harper, 13, and twins Emantu and Finan, 7 — returned to Maine early last week. Robert Layng works as a foreign service officer for the US Agency for International Development, where he works on economic and environmental issues. He and his family returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he served three years. As part of his foreign service, he is required to return home for four weeks as a mandatory home leave after finishing his tour.

His mother-in-law, Maureen Davis of Skowhegan, says that she began preparing for their return to Maine by buying groceries and setting up her camp in East Madison to allow them to quarantine there. Additionally, she began making calls to arrange for the family of six to get tested, which she said was difficult because of inconsistencies with different agencies.

“It was incredibly hard to deal with the bureaucracy in the state,” Davis said.

As of Saturday, Maine has had 3,520 cases of coronavirus; of those, 2,972 have recovered and there are 436 active cases around the state. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there have been 7,905 cases, 3,513 recoveries and 189 deaths reported.

Davis added that before their arrival on Monday, she called 211 to try to set up an appointment for the family to get tested when they arrived in Maine. She added that the family was quarantined while in the Democratic Republic of Congo and were not showing any symptoms, but was trying to follow the state’s guidelines on testing.

According to the state’s website, those coming into the state must quarantine for 14 days with a few states exempt from this requirement. Adults that have tested negative may forgo the 14-day quarantine, though there is no mention of how to get tested on their website.

She was told then that the family had two options; to go to Urgent Care in Portland or Walgreens in Portland, because both facilities, she was told, would be less restrictive as they do not require a referral from a primary care physician. After leaving five voicemails with the urgent care and not being able to reach anyone at Walgreens, she became frustrated.

“I left five messages (at the Urgent Care) and never heard back from them,” Davis said. “I called Walgreens and the store told me that it was a drive-thru and they didn’t have a telephone number.”

The family left the Democratic Republic of Congo and flew to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia from Kinshasa. From there, they flew to Dulles International Airport in Virginia. Because they had a dog with them, they had to rent a car to drive to Maine as domestic flights are not currently allowing pets.

When they left Africa, Davis said that the family had their temperatures taken and they were sanitized; when they arrived in the U.S., this was not the case.

“We are no stranger to epidemics,” Layng said. “Ebola 11 ended shortly before we left the country.”

Upon arriving in Maine, they stopped at the drive-thru testing facility at Walgreens, but they were not testing children under 18, so they didn’t get tested and drove up to East Madison to quarantine.

“There’s some drive-up facilities that were providing limited opportunities for anyone under 18. They’re limited value for us because we have four children,” Robert Layng said. “If our children can’t be tested, what’s the point of getting only two of us tested?”

Upon their arrival in East Madison, where they quarantined at Davis’ camp, they spend a great deal of time on the phone trying to find a facility that would test them. After calling all over the state, they were able to get ahold of Northern Light Inland Hospital in Waterville with a referral from a primary care doctor, which Layng was able to get sent over from the family physician in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Though the hospital can’t give details about specific patients, lead communications specialist Kathy Jason says that testing criteria at Northern Light Health continues to prioritize patients with symptoms, as well as patients who need certain procedures and will work with state resources to ensure that testing expansion for others is up and running.

“Of course, each patient and their unique circumstances are considered on an individual basis to make the best decision possible to provide appropriate care,” Jason said in an email. “We are working hard to further expand our own testing capabilities.”

To date, the facility has tested nearly 24,000 patients, with results coming back a few days after the test is administered.

Layng said that his employer requires him and his family to return home, which is “what moved the needle.”

“I don’t really have a choice, this is where we are from, where our family is, and this is where we choose to come every year.”

On Thursday morning, the family was tested at Inland Hospital with nasal swabs, and by Friday afternoon, their results came back: negative.

“We urge visitors from areas not included in the state’s exemption list to complete a COVID-19 test within 72-hours of arrival in the state of Maine and that they bring their paperwork along with them to avoid the 14-day quarantine as our testing capacity does not allow for testing of asymptomatic individuals for this reason at this time,” Jason said.

Though the family was able to get tested after jumping through some hoops, Davis said that this hassle that her family went through is one that many others are also dealing with.

“There is a big lack of coordination,” she said. “There are too many restrictions or loopholes that you have to jump through to get a test.”

Davis added that she also has a grandson quarantining with her that arrived from Ohio. When tested, he was told that his results would come in about 72 hours later, and then was told it could take up to eight days.

Another issue, she added, is that hospitals test patients that are having medical procedures, but not their caregivers. Additionally, she said that after speaking with some friends that are doctors, she learned that many are going to New Hampshire to get tested because of the difficulties they face in Maine.

She tried contacting Gov. Janet Mills and Sen. Angus King through email, citing that there is a policy in place requiring people to be tested, but nobody seems to be able to get a test and there is a significant lack of coordination. She had not received responses from either.

“Our whole family has been impacted,” Davis said, adding that her family is particularly lucky because she has her camp that they were able to quarantine in. “If people are coming from out of town and don’t have family here, there’s no way that they can get their groceries and supplies for two weeks without breaking quarantine.”

Robert Layng, who is supposed to head to Vietnam as part of his next assignment with his family, says that he is unsure of when the family will relocate as the country is not receiving new arrivals and are working through unresolved issues with the state department related to testing of American citizen diplomats.

“Until they open the country for arrivals and the state department solves that issue, we’re here,” he said.

Though his family does not have coronavirus, he added that they are still taking precautions when they are out and about, including wearing masks and abiding by social distancing guidelines.

“It’s interesting, we’ve noticed that it’s about who you know or how much money you have,” Robert Layng said, adding that he knows of people that received their test results immediately, while others have to wait anywhere between three to six days to get their results back.

“People should know that (getting tested) isn’t as easy as everyone thinks.” Davis said.

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