Virginia health officials say they can test 1,000 people for COVID-19. Experts say that’s nowhere near enough.

Virginia health officials say they can test 1,000 people for COVID-19. Experts say that’s nowhere near enough.
Governor Ralph Northam will hold a press conference about preparations the state of Virginia will take on the coronavirus crisis. (Source: Henry Graff/NBC12)

Lindsey Mace did exactly what she was supposed to do when she started feeling sick last week. She called her doctor at Richmond Family Practice and listed her symptoms: run-down and tired, with a lot of pressure in her chest and head.

“It was at the point where I felt tired just taking the dog out,” Mace said. She thought it might be the flu or a sinus infection, but when she went into the office on Friday morning, a staff member there immediately handed her a surgical mask. They were wearing masks, too, and Mace stood in a hallway outside the entrance — away from the main waiting area — until her doctor brought her back to an examination room.

Mace said he asked her questions about her travel history and risk of exposure to COVID-19, the disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus. He asked about her medical history, and whether her anemia could be playing a role (blood tests showed her iron levels were fine, and she had just recently received an iron infusion). Her flu test was negative, and she said her doctor told her she was on the threshold of requiring a test for the virus.

“But he said, ‘To be honest, we don’t even have tests here,’” Mace said. And though she had gone to a large public event the weekend before (the Richmond Mom Prom, which she estimated roughly 600 other women attended), she wouldn’t have met the threshold for testing by the Virginia Department of Health, which sets strict criteria aimed at high-risk patients and those with “close contact” to laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease.

“He said tests were very, very limited and they were being told not to test people,” Mace added. (Richmond Family Practice did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.)

So, like many patients in Virginia with symptoms of the virus but no known exposure, Mace went home. By Wednesday, she said, her doctor decided that she was sick with a sinus infection and cleared her to leave the house.


The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.