Battle Ground teacher thinks she has COVID-19, can’t get tested

The refusals come despite assurances that providers didn’t need public health approval for testing

BATTLE GROUND — About a week ago Glenna Ainley, who teaches ESL at Chief Umtuch Middle School in Battle Ground, started feeling a little under the weather.

Lab testing is expected to expand soon for COVID-19, but many say they are being turned away now, despite symptoms. Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Lab testing is expected to expand soon for COVID-19, but many say they are being turned away now, despite symptoms. Photo by CDC on Unsplash

“A little bit congested, little bit tired,” she says. “I haven’t been sick all year, so my immune system is actually pretty high.”

While she hadn’t been sick, Ainley says she’d used up her sick days for other concerns. And the symptoms weren’t too bad at first, so she powered through.

Then Tuesday afternoon, she started having trouble breathing, along with a dry mouth and sore throat. 

Glenna Ainley is a middle school teacher at Chief Umtuch in Battle Ground. Photo courtesy Battle Ground School District
Glenna Ainley is a middle school teacher at Chief Umtuch in Battle Ground. Photo courtesy Battle Ground School District

That’s when she really started to think this might be more than just a regular seasonal bug.

Ainley took Wednesday and Thursday off unpaid, and she emailed her doctor at Providence to seek advice. A nurse called back almost immediately and said she should call the emergency room and then go in to get checked out.

At the ER inside Legacy Salmon Creek, Ainley says nurses made every attempt to keep their distance.

“Nobody stayed in my room for long,” she says. “They literally would come to open the door and just talk to you from the door.”

They ran tests to see if her symptoms were the common flu. When those came back negative, Ainley says she expected they’d run a test to see if she had COVID-19.

“They said, ‘Well, you know, you may have this, but we don’t have the test authority,’” Ainley says. “Everybody that has to be tested has to be OK’d by the local public health organization.”

So they sent her home, and told her to stay isolated through at least next Monday.

Ainley says a student whose father travels extensively for business recently had a cough while in class. Her teaching assistant has also experienced similar symptoms, but has yet to be tested.

Today, Ainley says she feels even worse than when she went into the emergency room, but she’s hoping for the best.

“Even though the X-ray said it was negative for pneumonia, I still got stuff in there that can make it hard to breathe,” she says. “You know they really didn’t treat me at all.”

Testing confusion

Ainley’s experience echoes the frustration of many online, who worry they could have the new coronavirus, but haven’t been able to get anyone to do the tests.

For this middle school teacher, it’s more than just about knowing. Ainley says she has a health history that includes diabetes and pneumonia almost every year, so she’s concerned this virus could put her back in the hospital soon.

Larry Dubay commented on a Facebook post by Clark County Public Health, saying he had attempted to get tested at four different places and was denied.

“Legacy salmon creek emergency said I would need the name of the person who infected us. I said I don’t know the name of a person, do you? And they said no. I asked, then how is that possible,” wrote Dubay, adding that his wife’s asthma and his own heart condition apparently weren’t enough to classify them as high risk.

Deborah Briggs replied that her son and husband have both been sick with what they think is COVID-19, and have been denied testing as recently as this week.

“They said they simply don’t have enough tests,” Briggs wrote. “Last week the ER was even super rude about it and acted like I was crazy to even ask.”

Those accounts run contrary to what Clark County Public Health officials have been saying this week, indicating that doctors can now send tests to the University of Washington, without authorization from the county.

“I’m optimistic that we’re getting more tests out there,” said Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick in an interview with Clark County Today on Wednesday, noting that UW should be able to process around 3,000 tests per day, equating to 1,500 people, compared with only 100 people per day at the state health lab currently.

“Up till now, we’ve only been testing at the state public health lab people who met the CDC criteria, and that was basically at that people who had been hospitalized,” Melnick said. “But now we’ll have an opportunity as more people get tested to get a better idea of what’s out there in the community, in terms of whether there are more positive cases out there.”

Clark County Today has reached out to both Legacy and PeaceHealth Southwest for clarification on their testing policies, and will update this story with any response.

Help coming?

In a press conference on Friday from the White House, President Donald Trump was joined by leaders of national pharmacy chains, including CVS, Walgreens, Target, and Quest Diagnostics.

The president promised that half a million additional tests would be available “early next week,” assuming Congress acts to give federal authority for the change in procedure.

“This will pass,” Trump added. “And we’ll all be the stronger for it.”

The new system would use a website to allow people to input symptoms. If they match potential COVID-19 infection, they would be directed to a nearby drive-through testing site.

The website was being built by Google, Trump said, and would be available “very quickly.”

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, later clarified that the website is being built by Verily, a different company under their umbrella, and would only be for the Bay Area initially.

“Verily is in the early stages of development, and planning to roll testing out in the Bay Area, with the hope of expanding more broadly over time,” the company said in a statement. “We appreciate the support of government officials and industry partners and thank the Google engineers who have volunteered to be part of this effort.”

The administration is also working with pharmacies and retailers to more quickly launch drive-through testing labs in critical locations, which would be identified by public health officials.

Trump also added that he expects to be tested for the virus very soon, after potentially being exposed in a visit with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who recently tested positive.

“I don’t have any of the symptoms,” said the president. “White House doctors, and there are a lot of them, say ‘you don’t have any symptoms whatsoever,’ and we don’t want people without symptoms to go out and do the test.”