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Celebrities seemingly have easy access to coronavirus testing, working class struggles and waits

Patients weigh in on celebrities’ ease at getting tested

Medical professionals can be seen Monday while testing first responders and other medical professionals for COVID-19 at a testing station at the Jefferson Street Walmart in Joliet.
Medical professionals can be seen Monday while testing first responders and other medical professionals for COVID-19 at a testing station at the Jefferson Street Walmart in Joliet.

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At daily briefings across the country, people are reminded that COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate.

Those young or old, with strong or compromised immune systems, rich or poor, are at equal risk of contracting the respiratory disease, public health officials say.

But as celebrities continue to undergo testing that others struggle to obtain, many have questioned whether access to COVID-19 testing is as impartial as the disease itself.

“I have had many people reach out to me as they are scared, have loved ones that are vulnerable [on oxygen], aren’t feeling ‘well,’ and can’t get tested and can’t reach a doctor – four-hour waiting lists for telemedicine. Common, working people,” said Traci Strobel, a Crystal Lake woman recovering from COVID-19 at home.

Strobel said that her husband and son, who are not exhibiting symptoms, were not able to be tested.

“They are supposedly off quarantine tomorrow,” Strobel said. “We don’t know if they have it and are just not exhibiting symptoms.”

Meanwhile, celebrities including actors Idris Elba, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson and Brooklyn Nets player Kevin Durant have tested positive for COVID-19, although not all exhibited symptoms.

Elba took to Twitter Live on March 17 to answer questions about his condition, including why he was tested although he was asymptomatic.

“The simple answer is that on Friday last week, I was told that someone that I had been in contact with had tested positive and I’m on location about to start a film and the news breaks that this person, who’s also in the public eye, had tested positive, so it was definitely something that I had to do as I was about to start filming and was around a lot of people,” Elba said. “And quite honestly, my job made me test immediately.”

Compounding frustrations, the Brooklyn Nets professional basketball team announced last week the entire team was tested upon returning from San Francisco after a game against the Golden State Warriors. The team found a private lab to do the work, and soon after announced that four of its players were positive for the virus, including perennial All-Star Kevin Durant, the Associated Press reported.

Although the NBA team didn’t use public health resources to obtain its testing, the news troubled many, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We wish them a speedy recovery,” the mayor wrote on Twitter. “But, with all due respect, an entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested. Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick.”

Many industries that represent the largest groups of uninsured workers are the same occupations considered essential during communitywide lockdowns sprung from COVID-19 concerns. Construction laborers, cooks, truck drivers, cashiers, food servers, janitors, maids, carpenters, landscapers and retail sales associates are among the largest numbers of uninsured workers in the country, a 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found.

Of the nearly 28 million non-elderly people in the U.S. who lacked health insurance in 2018, adults, low-income individuals and people of color were at a greater risk of being uninsured, according to the KFF.

When it comes to access to COVID-19 testing in particular, President Donald Trump said those with status and wealth shouldn’t get priority, but acknowledged that they sometimes do.

“Perhaps that’s been the story of life,” Trump said during a briefing at the White House. “That does happen on occasion. And I’ve noticed where some people have been tested fairly quickly.”

Those who are tested with relative ease, however, are grappling with lab test delays lasting weeks after tests were administered.

“They told me 5-7 days,” 51-year-old Crystal Lake man Matt Hemstreet said. “It’s [been] seven days and still no results. We are still waiting.”

Hemstreet, who reported symptoms including fever, body aches, sore throat and exhaustion, was tested after traveling abroad with several people who tested positive for COVID-19.

“My colleague from Kansas received his results in 24 hours,” Hemstreet said.

On Tuesday, Gov. JB Pritzker said the state now is testing about 2,000 individuals daily. That’s an improvement compared with February, when the state had the capacity to test only about 50 people each day. The state expects to be testing more than 4,300 people a day in the near future.

A McHenry County woman who is awaiting test results asked to remain anonymous out fear of stigmatization. Although she’s thankful that her symptoms are less aggressive than others’, she fears a future when hospitals are at capacity.

“People shouldn’t be in a panic, but every day more and more people are showing symptoms and unable to be tested ...” she said. “People think there’s no way it could get as bad here as it has been in Italy or China, but it’s happening. And once our hospitals become too overwhelmed, it’ll be devastating.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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