Gordon Mohs has been in self-isolation for nearly a week, after developing what he first thought was a cold.
But as his symptoms progressed, so has his worry that he has COVID-19 and may have contracted it – and possibly passed it along – during multiple plane rides from Vancouver to northern B.C. in recent weeks while helping his 91-year-old step-dad recover from major surgery.
“I was feeling exhausted, and then I started coughing Monday night and I self-isolated,” he told Black Press Media by phone from his home in Mission.
Mohs, 69, said he started to worry as his symptoms began to align with what health officials have warned the public to be on the lookout for: coughing, fever, tiredness and difficulty breathing.
“Tuesday I started really feeling it, so I tried 811 and I couldn’t get through,” Mohs said. “After the first seven or eight tries I thought ‘this is crazy’ and so we started counting it.”
After 91 attempts to connect during the busy afternoon hours, Mohs gave up and decided to try again at about 4 a.m. on Wednesday.
Dozens more attempts later, he managed to get patched through – waiting more than hour to speak with a nurse.
“There’s this person that keeps coming on saying ‘the navigator will be with you’ and I don’t know if you have ever gotten through but it’s awful… the recording went on and on.”
Once through, Mohs made a plea to be tested, he said, only to be told to self-isolate, avoid going to a hospital, and check back if his symptoms got worse.
“I thought that was really frustrating hearing that, I finally just hung up,” he said. “I’m concerned, I’m sick.”
B.C. health care workers being bombarded with questions to 811
Mohs is certainly not the only one in B.C. on edge over the virus, and many front-line workers are feeling the crunch.
Health Minister Adrian Dix told reporters during the daily COVID-19 briefing that HealthLink BC staff are dealing with 3,000 to 4,000 calls per day. The newly launched non-emergency COVID-19 hotline saw 1,800 callers in the first 24 hours.
Close to a million people visited the online assessment tool less than a day after it went live, created to help bring relief to the HealthLink staff. But even so, as a person makes their way through the questionnaire, a number of answers direct them to self isolate and call 811 if symptoms become more severe.
For Mohs, the concern transcends his own health to the many he came into contact with before he started developing symptoms. That includes those at a Quesnel Hospital where he spent six hours earlier this month for his step-dad’s pre-surgery appointment and five trips over several weeks between Vancouver International Airport and Prince George Airport.
“I want to do what I can to self-isolate, but we aren’t doing enough testing,” he said. “If I was infectious [in the hospital] than we have a problem.”
As of Friday, March 20, 17,000 people in B.C. had been swabbed for COVID-19, health officials confirmed, with more than 300 positive cases.
As those tests make their way through the labs, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry expects the number of confirmed cases will rise at staggering levels as tests “reconcile” with the number of actual cases.
Moving forward, the province said it will be focusing its efforts on testing the most vulnerable, specifically health care workers, the elderly and anyone linked to clusters of cases and the current outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Home in North Vancouver.
Finally goes through drive-thru clinic as symptoms worsen
On Thursday, Mohs was able to see a nurse practitioner face-to-face, but only after attempting to see a doctor at a drop-in clinic.
“When the nurse saw my symptoms she told me to go home and self-isolate,” he said. “I informed her that I had been self-isolating since Monday, but that my conditions were getting worse.”
After threatening to go to the emergency room, the doctor wrote Mohs a note recommending he be swab-tested and directed him to a drive-thru testing centre set up in Abbotsford.
“Eventually, while in my vehicle – window partway down – two nurses asked me a number of questions about my symptoms, took my temperature, pulse and oxygen reading and informed me that this phase was only an ‘assessment’ of my condition, and if warranted I would be taken inside the arena to a patient room for further examination,” Mohs said.
“I was taken inside where I met a nurse practitioner, who did further tests.”
Mohs was told he had some of the conditions, but not all.
“I was informed that the government was restricting testing to medical personnel and vulnerable seniors, and that I didn’t qualify, but that if I got worse I was to come back, or if I found difficulty breathing I should call 911 or go to emergency.”
For Mohs, the biggest frustration is that no health official has asked him why he is so concerned about being tested – fueling his largest fear that he has infected his step-father.
He said he doesn’t blame the health care workers on the frontlines and knows they are doing the best they can.
While the World Health Organization tells countries to “test, test, test” as the key to containing the spread of the disease, Mohs feels the government isn’t being honest about their testing capacity.
“What the government doesn’t recognize is the anxiety they have created by lack of information on availability of individual testing,” he said.
For now, Mohs has one option: to self-isolate and hope his symptoms get better or have them get severe enough to require to be tested.
“I will self-isolate, but I am very angry.”