Dr. Marianne Hazelitt, an internist in Pahrump, had returned Saturday from a cruise to Belize when she developed a fever over 103 degrees along with a cough, shortness of breath and a sore throat.
On Sunday, she began her quest to be tested for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
She contacted an urgent care clinic and then the hospital in Pahrump, where she was told that with just two test kits left, only patients so seriously ill that they had to be airlifted to Las Vegas hospitals were being tested for the virus.
On Monday, she contacted the Southern Nevada Health District, which advised her to work through a private lab. She then took her own nasal swab, but she isn’t confident the specimen will actually be tested.
“I feel like it’s a public disservice for my patients not to know if I need to be quarantined for 14 days,” said Hazelitt, 55, whose fever has broken but who is still recovering and has not returned to her medical practice.
Her story is one of many that underscore the ongoing difficulty in getting tested for the coronavirus even as public health authorities emphasize that more testing is critical to fighting the foothold the virus is gaining in the U.S.
Hazelitt, who has a history of lung disease and had a portion of one lung removed, said the doctor at Desert View Hospital in Pahrump told her that the remaining tests were needed for pneumonia patients on ventilators. Four such patients had been airlifted to Las Vegas the night before, she was told.
Hazelitt, who until a year ago worked at the hospital, said this volume is unusual. During her two years there, it typically airlifted two to three patients per week to Las Vegas, usually after heart attacks.
“Desert View Hospital in Pahrump does have the ability to test for COVID-19,” a hospital spokeswoman said. “We are working with our supplier to receive the swabs used for testing.”
But Hazelitt said her office does not know where to direct patients who want to be tested, many of whom are older adults.
At the last census, Pahrump had roughly 36,000 residents, nearly a third 65 or older. Although 80 percent of those who have contracted the coronavirus have experienced milder symptoms, older adults have been shown to be particularly susceptible to contracting pneumonia.
The Southern Nevada Health District has reported 42 cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 56.
On Monday, Hazelitt contacted the Southern Nevada Health District and, as a physician, was patched through to the epidemiology department, which advised her to use a private lab. While she was on her cruise, private lab Quest had provided a sample kit to her office that her staff understood was for COVID-19. However, the print on the test kit said it was for influenza.
“My staff was under the impression it was for the coronavirus, but the instructions don’t mention that at all,” she said.
Hazelitt submitted her specimen anyway, writing “COVID-19” on the sample.
“There were thousands of people on this cruise ship,” she said. “They deserve to know if there was somebody who had the virus.”