‘It’s not a level playing field’: Freetown parents struggle to get sick daughter tested for COVID-19

12 on 12: Vaccine 101

FREETOWN, Mass. (WPRI) ─ The Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s state lab can test up to 400 people for the coronavirus each day.

That’s why the O’Leary family said they were confused when staff at St. Luke’s Hospital told them they could not test their daughter, Kennedy, in-house.

“They’re doing all of the respiratory tests, but not that one, not the COVID-19 one, but she does fit the criteria,” Meghan O’Leary, Kennedy’s mother, said.

The O’Leary family recently made the trip to St. Luke’s emergency room when Kennedy began experiencing flu-like symptoms.

“They were going to hold off on testing her further for the COVID-19,” Meghan said. “Which was good and bad in the same way, because there is still that very small chance.”

Ultimately, Kennedy was diagnosed with Rhinovirus. Even though St. Luke’s held off the coronavirus test, James O’Leary, Kennedy’s father, was surprised to learn the hospital didn’t have the ability to process at COVID-19 test in-house.

“It’s not a level playing field necessarily between medical facilities,” James, who is also a producer for Eyewitness News, said. “If you know a hospital like St. Luke’s in a major city in Massachusetts doesn’t have the capability to do this kind of test in-house and have the results in-house, what are smaller hospitals in Massachusetts, or across the country, up against right now? It’s alarming.”

Kennedy ended up being transferred to Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence where she was treated for pneumonia – and tested negative for COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidelines for public health officials regarding who should be tested for the virus.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said the state lab is primarily focused on testing health care workers and first responders, as well as high-risk populations. The Rhode Island Department of Health is also prioritizing tests.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday the state should see in increase in the health department’s testing capabilities over the next few days.

In a statement of Eyewitness News, Southcoast Health, which operates St. Luke’s, said their test supply has been limited and the demand has been high.

“We have multiple bulk shipments of kits arriving at our sites,” the statement reads. “We’re also acquiring two commercially available COVID-19 testing units that will enable us to process hundreds of tests a day with much shorter turnaround times than we’re seeing now.”

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