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COVID Testing and Contact Tracing in RI, the UK, and NYC: a Personal Anecdote/Saga

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COVID Testing and Contact Tracing in RI, the UK, and NYC: a Personal Anecdote/Saga

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Lambert here: Long-time alert reader AM threw the following over the transom. She describes the experiences she and her husband had with rapid testing, a false positive, a negative test, and tracking futility and box checking in Rhode Island, the UK, and New York City. Needless to say, it looks to me like our pandemic infrastructure has a ways to go. Readers, have you had similar experiences that you would like to share?

Our story starts in Providence, Rhode Island…

* * *

Here is the sequence of events:

We decide to go ahead with a trip to Scotland in the first two weeks of October (postponed from May). We are going to be in the countryside in a vacation rental property with no one else and plan to play some golf and do other socially distant activities. No plans to meet anyone there, so fairly responsible.

Husband decides that it would be even more responsible to get tested for COVID-19 so we can prove we are negative. I am not so sure it’s a good idea since it won’t exempt us from the UK quarantine requirement but I go along, against my instincts. We go to a rapid testing place with a URI contract in Central Falls, RI two days before we are supposed to fly out. The test is done by swirling a swab around the inside of both nostrils. It is not the nasopharyngeal type of test. Hubby’s test results are negative, mine are positive. It makes no sense, so we scramble around to get a second test done. Find a private clinic in Providence. Walk in, see a doctor after filling out insurance stuff and we both get the nasopharyngeal type of test in both sides of our nasal cavities. The results should be available in around 24 hours, we are told.

Sure enough, hubby gets his the next morning, now the day before we are flying to Scotland. Negative again for him. My results still hadn’t shown up by late morning, but there they were, just as we were starting the drive to NYC for our flight – NEGATIVE! I realize that the tests aren’t 100% accurate but I will take the nasopharyngeal over the inside the nostrils swab any day. Plus, how could hubby be negative if I am positive? I am 100% sure that my positive results were wrong.

Meanwhile, I already had been contacted by the RI health department’s COVID-19 tracking crew. I missed the call but left a message on their voicemail. I even tried again to reach them a couple of times during the day but always got voicemail. I never received another call from them during the 48 hours between the false positive test and our flight to Scotland Friday night.

10 days later, they finally texted me but by then I was in Scotland. They had no record of the negative test results. Only the positive, which was from 10 days earlier. They asked a lot of questions about my ethnicity, sexual orientation, and where I worked, but very little about my contacts. I told them that I had tested negative as well, which seemed to confuse them. That was the last time I heard from RI.

We provided the UK government with our planned quarantine location in Scotland and gave them contact information. This was an online form that we completed the night before our flight. When we got to Heathrow airport, it seemed like we were the only ones who had done this, even though it was supposedly a requirement. The line barely moved at border control because the immigration agents were helping everyone fill out the form!

We did get an email two days after our arrival from the Scottish health authorities warning us that we might be contacted as part of a random sampling, and that we might be fined if we didn’t respond to a phone call or email, but needless to say we never heard anything. We had a wonderful vacation and kept to ourselves, but we did play golf, visit some castles and ate out several times. I don’t think we were at risk or put anyone at risk. The whole quarantine process is just theater. Lots of information collected for no really effective reason.

Upon our return to NYC on a Saturday night, we had to fill out another form telling NY where we had been and where we would be staying for our two weeks of quarantine. After we got our luggage at JFK and were heading to the exit, we encountered about half a dozen National Guard officers who were handing out the paper forms and pens for completing them. There weren’t a lot of people on the plane, but everyone was jammed together in a relatively small space filling out the forms. Definitely not 6 feet of separation. No one could leave without completing one. They were not one per household either – we each had to fill out our own. I couldn’t believe that the guards were actually giving people pens and that the passengers were sharing them with each other. If we do get the COVID-19 from our trip it will be from the form filling out exercise! Thanks Andy! Moreover, I could have scribbled down anything or made a “mistake” in my phone number or email address and none of the National Guard guys collecting the forms would have known. NY didn’t care if we took a taxi home though. More theatre.

When we got to our NYC apartment there was a voicemail message for me from the NYC COVID-19 tracking people wanting to offer me resources because of my positive test from two weeks earlier. Said that they got my name from a database. They left a voicemail saying they would call again the next day. Maybe they did, but they didn’t leave a second message.
So we drove back to RI on Sunday. Nothing from NYC on Monday but on Tuesday I got a call from the NYC COVID-19 trackers They said they were calling because I had a positive test result from 20 days before. I told them that I had also tested negative on the same day. No record of that, and they also thought my false positive test was done in MA, not RI. The guy on the phone seemed to appreciate that a lot of time had gone by, but he still asked me whether I had any of a long list of symptoms. He asked questions about my ethnicity, my contacts, whether I was being abused, whether I had any medical conditions or disabilities, as well as my gender and sexual orientation!! He offered phone numbers for counseling and assistance with getting food. He said that they would be sending a care package with gloves and hand sanitizer. He told me that I should wash my clothes separately from my hubby’s. They went through all this even though it had been 20 days since my false positive results and even though I told him that I had no symptoms. A box checking exercise, clearly. I could tell he was reading from a script.

They also called my husband and asked him about symptoms. But not about our trip to Scotland. I assume that we will have to go through this all over again when they finally figure out that we recently traveled to a country that is probably doing better than the US in terms of new cases.

All I can say is that quarantine requirements and contact tracing are pointless and the contact tracking efforts are a huge waste of time and money. If I really had had the COVID-19, I would have spread it all over before they got in touch with me. By then it would be too late. The UK and the US are not China. I shudder to think what would have happened to me if I lived there! I’ll take the US any day, but state governments really need to stop pretending. What a joke.

Well, this has been therapeutic!

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I do think, and I’m not being cynical here, that the People’s Republic of New York sending a COVID care package is a good thing. Nevertheless.

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