25 Investigates: High risk patients are being denied COVID-19 testing

BOSTON — Earlier this month, President Donald Trump urged the public to “remain calm” amid the coronavirus outbreak and assured Americans that anyone who wanted a test can have one. But, as 25 Investigates has been reporting, tests kits are not available in doctors’ offices across Massachusetts, and now we are learning that many high-risk patients are being denied tests.

25 Investigates’ Ted Daniel spoke to a Hanover doctor who says he has been trying to get patients tested for weeks.

Dr. Rafay Mehdi, a primary care physician, said he has seven very ill patients who he sent to the hospital for testing. But, he says, they were denied because hospital staff told them that they do not meet the stringent criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Under CDC criteria tests are reserved for severely ill patients., such as those who have fever and/or symptoms of respiratory illness, had contact with a COVID-19 patient, traveled to China, Iran, Italy and South Korea, or are suffering severe respiratory distress that would require hospitalization.

One of Mehdi’s patients, a 73-year old female from the South Shore, spoke to 25 Investigates via telephone. She asked that we only refer to her as Holly.

“No one wants to come anywhere near me. Friends, relatives,” said Holly. “I’ve run out of food. Everybody’s afraid. They’re all afraid of getting sick.”

Holly’s symptoms include fever, cough, body aches and shortness of breath, and she had direct contact with co-workers who recently returned from China. Dr. Mehdi ordered her tested for coronavirus, but two separate hospitals south of Boston denied her because she did not meet the CDC criteria.

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“They don’t have enough kits and they have to conserve the kits,” said Holly. “According to these doctors in the ER room, I don’t meet any of the criteria.”

As a result, Holly has been in a self-imposed quarantine since February 14, monitored by Dr. Mehdi and managing her symptoms from home with antibiotics.

Coronavirus testing in Massachusetts must be approved by the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH). The agency told 25 Investigates it is following the criteria established by the CDC.

“The criteria are so narrow that you’re only getting a small, a very small thin slice of the pie, of coronavirus cases,” said Mehdi. “It upsets me and frustrates me because of the way my patients are suffering because of the negligence that has been caused by these strict criteria.”

DPH tells 25 Investigates it currently has enough testing kits for 2,000 people in Massachusetts, and more are on the way.

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But, according to Medhi, that is not enough. He says more testing supplies are desperately needed and should immediately be distributed to doctors on the front lines.

“The ship is sinking. We missed the boat and we have to act now to provide the kits to the doctors right away,” said Mehdi.

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