Diary of a Healthcare Worker – No More Testing?

Over the past few weeks the COVID-19 testing site where I am a healthcare worker has been through the ringer. At the end of January we were testing close to 400 people every single day. It was a very busy time and we were understaffed, but now we are lucky if more than 100 people come in. Why is this?

Pima County has spent close to $40 million on COVID-19 testing efforts since the beginning of the pandemic. The state of Arizona has been claiming that a reimbursement package was in the works to aid the counties now struggling to provide both testing and vaccinations to residents. However, it was announced that in response to the $40 million spent on testing efforts, Pima County would be receiving a $1 million in reimbursement from the state of Arizona. On Thursday, February 18th, Pima County released a statement saying the allotment wasn’t enough to keep current efforts in place, and any county funded testing facility would be shut down by Monday, February 22nd.

Let’s unpack why this situation seems to be going from bad to worse. Not three weeks ago, the state of Arizona was being called “a COVID-19 hotspot” and last month confirmed 800,000 cases with 15,000 COVID-19 related deaths. As a frontline healthcare worker in Arizona this is concerning for two main reasons: 1.) The numbers don’t seem to be based on comprehensive testing; 2.) These figures are extremely high, regardless of that. In our weekly meetings with staff from multiple facilities in the area, there have been reports of sites being virtually empty for the past month. This means less people are coming in to get a COVID-19 test and so less people don’t know if they are COVID-19 positive and exposing others to the virus. Every healthcare professional I have spoken with about this situation is concerned. I’ve been told that the decrease in testing leads to inaccurate data and will cause more harm in the long run. Lately, a majority of the health care facilities in our county have closed, making it more difficult for residents wanting to get a COVID-19 test. My testing center is funded by Arizona State University and is, thankfully, unaffected by the county closures and will continue to provide testing to underserved communities in Pima County.

I understand the need to shift the state budget’s focus from testing to vaccination efforts, but we aren’t the only county in Arizona that can’t keep tabs on testing anymore, and the uncertainty of what this means for the people of this state is scary. How many more people will get sick without testing? How many more people are going to be asymptomatic carriers, spreading COVID-19 like wildfire through our communities? The most vulnerable populations like the low-income minorities in communities like mine will continue to suffer the harmful effects of such decisions. I can’t help but wonder and worry if it will take another incredible spike of COVID-19 deaths in our state to re-emphasize the importance of testing and tracking cases.

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