Last week, my mom and I both had to take COVID tests. (Spoiler alert: We are fine and neither of us had COVID.) On my way home from work one evening, I developed the sniffles and a sore throat. Two years ago, I would have just popped some DayQuil and gone to work the next day, but we live in deadlier times, and since I’m in the health care field, I am considered infected until proven innocuous.

Like every MaineHealth employee (I think) (I hope!), I fill out an employee screener on an app every day. It asks a series of questions about exposure and symptoms of COVID-19. If you pass, you get a green bar that you show at the door to your workplace. If you don’t pass, you get a red bar until you do. I got a red bar. I could not return to work until I was symptom-free and had a negative PCR test. The screener app texted me a link that gave me an instant digital menu of testing locations and times to choose from for a COVID swab. This instant digital menu is not accessible to the general public; it is reserved for health care employees, which I technically am. While I’m not as vital as a doctor, nurse or CNA, at this point it’s all hands on deck all day every day, I went to a walk-in clinic in Saco that afternoon and was out in under 10 minutes. Negative result the next morning.

The next day, my mom got an email that someone at a birthday party she’d attended a few days prior had tested positive for COVID. Since I’m literally a professional at scheduling medical tests and procedures, and since I was home sick anyway, I took the lead on getting my mom a PCR test. But coming at it from the civilian side, I found all the clinic doors slammed shut. I couldn’t even get a live person on the phone at the Saco walk-in clinic where I had gone the day before, just a recording saying all their testing spots were full, and to try again in the morning. No CVS or Walgreens in an hour radius had open spots for days. I finally managed to get a spot at the ConvenientMD in Westbrook for the next afternoon, and she still had to wait in her car for an hour. It was still better than my Aunt Barb’s experience last week trying to get a COVID test in D.C. She had to stand in a line outside for over an hour. People waiting in line close to the front were selling their spots to folks at the end.

My mom wanted to make sure that I mentioned she was extremely happy with the service and care she received at ConvenientMD. She got her results in 24 hours. Everyone she interacted with that day was kind and helpful, despite being overwhelmed with demand, not just for COVID-19 testing but also for all the other health issues that urgent care clinics see. The staff was doing their best, just like the staff at the Saco walk-in clinic.

The testing issue is bigger than one clinic. This is a top-down institutional failure from every level of American government. We are two years into the coronavirus pandemic. I should not be getting priority boarding access to PCR tests due to my status as a medical secretary, because no priority should be necessary. Two years into this pandemic and our country should be handing out tests like an improv comedy group handing out flyers in Times Square.

You should be able to get a rapid antigen test as easily as getting a lottery ticket, and just as cheap. Heck, we should put them everywhere we put lottery tickets. Stopping at a gas station? Grab a COVID test by the pump! Shopping? Have the cashier throw a handful into your bag! Everyone in the country should be testing themselves multiple times every week. You can’t stop a virus from spreading if you don’t know who has it, and detecting the virus as early as possible gives a better chance for the few available treatments, like monoclonal antibodies and the upcoming antiviral pills, to work to prevent severe disease. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; a nasal swab is more comfortable than a ventilator.

And yet. This is America, where big business has captured our elected government and our political, cultural and economic “leaders” throw public health under the bus in an effort to increase their own power, influence and wealth. Any time they want, the military can go to Congress and say boo-hoo, my aircraft carrier is out of style, I want a brand-new one, and they get a blank check for it; meanwhile, our hospital system is treating patients in hallways and rolling out care-rationing protocols.

I work with critical-care doctors who work in the ICU. Our culture lionizes killers, not healers, but my doctors are just as heroic as any soldier with a star on their chest. If you end up in the hospital with COVID-19, they are the last line of defense standing between you and death by drowning in your own fluids. But they were never supposed to be the only line of defense. We have failed them, and each other.

The political “leaders” who rail against mask-wearing requirements and plant unfounded doubts about vaccinations are unfit to wash these doctors’ scrubs and, in my personal opinion, can go straight to hell.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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