The Minnesota Department of Health is not directly notifying residents whose COVID-19 tests come back negative, leaving some people to continue wondering if they have the virus, days after the state cleared its testing backlog.
Two people who were tested more than a week ago for the virus that causes COVID-19 at facilities in St. Louis Park said they have yet to hear back from anyone about whether their specimens contained the virus. The delay has deepened their sense of isolation in strict quarantine and left them unable to tell acquaintances and bosses whether they’re affected.
“I’ve been waiting since the 14th for these test results. And I’m pissed off,” said Travis Krulikosky, 46, of Minneapolis, who has been out of work and under quarantine at home while the results are pending. “I turn on the TV and I see all the tests are done, but I still don’t have my results.”
State officials declared Sunday that the significant backlog of unprocessed COVID-19 tests from earlier in the month was cleared after Mayo Clinic pitched in to help process untested specimens.
But on Monday, the state Health Department said it was only contacting people whose COVID-19 tests were positive. People whose tests are negative for the virus are supposed to get those results from the health care provider who took the specimen.
“Given the number of tests and the number of positive results, the focus needs to be on notifying positive results first, so we can perform the subsequent investigations,” Minnesota Department of Health spokeswoman Julie Bartkey said in an e-mail. “It’s simply a matter of capacity.”
And on Tuesday, HealthPartners acknowledged that some of its earliest test specimens are still being processed: “Those early tests that were involved in the delay are at the lab for analysis, which should be completed and communicated within 4 days,” HealthPartners spokesman David Martinson said in an e-mail.
Some patients feel stranded.
Krulikosky said his case was probably bronchitis, not COVID-19. He was initially told he’d have his results within two days, which he told his employer. Now it has been more than a week and he still doesn’t know what to tell his human resources department.
Rachel Jackson, 43, of Golden Valley, said she was tested for COVID-19 on March 13 after returning from a trip to southern Texas and experiencing coughing and a fever. Her negative test results from strep and influenza arrived within a day, but her COVID-19 test has never come back.
Jackson said she understands public health officials need to prioritize their resources in dealing with the crisis, and her situation doesn’t put her in a high-priority group. That doesn’t make it easier to deal with the limitations of a self-quarantine at a personal level.
“From a levelheaded, rational, nonemotional perspective, I don’t need to know right now. But there is still that underlying anxiety,” Jackson said. “I’ve been isolated. I haven’t touched another human for 11 days — and I’m an extrovert and a hugger. I just want one hug, you know? It’s just one of those things that is really difficult.”
Jackson and Krulikosky were both tested at facilities run by HealthPartners. A third case reported to the Star Tribune involved a physician tested at a different Twin Cities health system on March 16. Her results remained unknown as well.
HealthPartners also said Tuesday that the large volume of patients who presented with COVID-19-like symptoms early in the outbreak created challenges in processing COVID-19 tests at labs across the country.
“While we have overcome many of these challenges, some of the tests that we obtained early on are still being processed,” Martinson said. “Aside from those that were in this early wave of testing, people can expect to receive results in 3 to 4 days.”
Although the state Health Department has a laboratory where COVID-19 tests are being processed, the nasal swabs and other test specimens are collected at local health care providers. In some cases, those tests are processed locally, and in others they are forwarded to the state. All positive tests are reported to the state.