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How limited testing access had a crippling effect in Michigan during early months of pandemic

Posted at 11:08 AM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 23:24:06-05

(WXYZ) — One of Detroit's first COVID-19 survivors is sharing his personal battle and the connection to a lack of testing availability when the pandemic first began.

For DeJuan Brown, the last year has been both the most terrifying and inspiring of his life. The COVID-19 survivor recalls getting severely sick, barely able to breathe, and calling 911 before he could even get a test.

“I was so afraid to fall asleep," Brown said. "I would fight my sleep because I was scared I would die."

From March to May of 2020, he fought to regain strength and lung function, and he was all alone.

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“You had no family. You couldn’t talk to anyone and no one could visit you," Brown said. “I have never in my life been that weak.”

His gut-wrenching story is a powerful glimpse into the early, fear-filled months of COVID-19.

“We started to bring up and ramp up supplies to get our testing started in early March," Dr. Daniel Ortiz with Beaumont Health System said.

Ortiz was settling into his new job, and he now oversees testing for all eight Beaumont hospitals and countless urgent care centers. On March 17, their very first PCR test was set up and read.

“You could test up to 90 patients. THREE times as many in one test run," he said.

Still, supply shortages and a lack of large-scale production from manufacturers, plus CDC setbacks, had a crippling effect.

“Companies weren’t able to produce enough of them (swabs) to meet the demand we were seeing for this type of testing," Ortiz said.

Along with supply shortages that limited testing access, Ortiz said concerns over visiting a hospital to get tested resulted in more challenges. Ultimately, drive-thru outdoor test sites, helped by tireless work from nurses and lab techs, fueled progress.

Within the Beaumont Health System, they say one way to track just how far they’ve come is in the number of tests they’re administering each and every day. That number was 300 in the beginning and it’s now more than 2,000.

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“We did hire more people specifically to work just with COVID," Ortiz said.

Now, more test methods and faster results are helping keep up with the demand that's remained steady with the discovery of newer variants of COVID-19.

“If we had unlimited supplies from the testing manufacturers today, we could be doing 5 to 6,000 a day. That’s why I say there are still shortages even today," Ortiz said.

For Brown, expert medical care has been a blessing, leading to a remarkable recovery, triumph over physical and mental trauma, and of course, a trip home from the hospital.

“I didn’t know until I woke up when they told me I had COVID," he said.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

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