Are you feeling sick and think you need testing for COVID-19? It might help if you're a high flying politician, a Hollywood Hills celebrity, or just simply rich.
While much of the world is wracked with a severe shortage of coronavirus tests, a number of famous faces have faced a backlash after revealing that they have been tested for the coronavirus, often when they didn't show any of the tell-tale symptoms.
A deadly viral outbreak is a good reminder that we’re all human. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, a waiter, a CEO, or a world-class athlete, a virus isn’t overly picky about who it infects. As you've no doubt read in the news, a number of public figures have been tested and diagnosed with COVID-19, including actor Tom Hanks, basketball player Kevin Durant, and Canada's First Lady, Sophie Trudeau, to name a few.
In an ideal world, everyone would get tested for COVID-19 as it's the most effective way to monitor and, in turn, conquer a viral outbreak. However, due to short supplies and a struggling infrastructure, most national authorities are only testing those who display clear symptoms. In the US, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires that a person meet a number of strict criteria before being tested for COVID-19, such as those displaying clear symptoms of patients with certain existing medical conditions.
Despite these hurdles, a number of prominent celebrities – including Kris Jenner, Drake, and the entire Brooklyn Nets basketball team – managed to get their hands on a test despite many of them not meeting the strict criteria required for most people. London-born actor Idris Elba also said he didn’t have any symptoms when he announced his positive COVID-19 result on Twitter last week.
Rand Paul is the first US senator to test positive for COVID-19. Paul's chief of staff said that "he is asymptomatic" but was tested because he travels a lot. To add salt to the wound, he's also one of the few senators who voted against a bill last week that provided billions of dollars to boost coronavirus testing and guarantee paid sick leave for workers.
So, how are the rich and famous getting the tests while the majority – including health workers – wait in line? The short answer is, unsurprisingly, money and connections.
The US, along with most other national health authorities, have pledged to make their COVID-19 diagnostic tests freely available for those who need it. However, it is possible to pay for a test at a private lab. One Los Angeles-based “concierge doctor” told Business Insider that the test is included in her $1,500 fee for a house visit. The Los Angeles Times also found a Santa Monica-based doctor that offered an at-home swab test for the COVID-19 starting at just $250, even if the person was not showing symptoms or had any contact with an infected.
It's big business too. In the UK, cardiologist Dr Mark Ali made a £1.7 million (~$ 1.98 million) profit at his private clinic in London by selling £2.5 million (~$ 2.91 million) worth of COVID-19 tests in less than a week, revealed The Times.
Meanwhile, many frontline doctors and nurses, not to mention many seriously sick people, are unable to get diagnosed because of mass test shortages. The Associated Press reports that a 30-year-old New York resident with fibromyalgia and an autoimmune disorder who tried to get a test at a hospital emergency room after falling sick with a fever and cough was told there weren’t enough tests.
“That’s just not fair,” she told the AP. “Why are they getting in front of the line? People like me, average Joes, we get pushed to the back of the line. Why can Congress get it and we can’t?”
When asked about this potential inequality in a press briefing last week, President Trump said the well-connected shouldn't get priority for COVID-19 tests, but conceded there are certain perks to being rich and famous.
“Perhaps that’s been the story of life,” Trump said. “That does happen on occasion."