CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For nearly the past two weeks, thousands of protesters have packed together on the streets of Charlotte amid a pandemic.
State and local leaders have urged all of them to get tested for COVID-19, but for some, that's not possible.
"If you have been in any kind of crowd, please go get tested," Governor Roy Cooper said at a recent press conference.
"We are very much wanting folks who may have been at a mass gathering to go get tested," added North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.
They explained how, whether protesters have symptoms or not, everyone should get tested. Their pleas were echoed by Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris on Tuesday before the County Commissioners meeting.
"We received guidance this morning in writing from the state that we should be making testing available to anyone who attended any of the protests," said Harris.
"Please, if you've been protesting, go get COVID tested, wear your mask, wash your hands and social distance," said Commissioner George Dunlap, chair to the board.
I've covered nearly a dozen protests since they first started in Charlotte. I wore a mask while out in the field among protesters, kept my distance when it was rarely possible, and washed my hands with sanitizer every chance I got.
Still, I was out in the large crowds, and on Wednesday decided to try to get tested.
Atrium, the healthcare provider I use, was my first call. I went to their website, found the phone number for free-over-the-phone-screening, and called.
I didn't get past that step.
A kind worker answered the call. I told her I was out in protests numerous times and I wanted to get tested. I was then asked if I had any symptoms.
I told her I did not. I felt fine and had no symptoms.
She then explained how in order to get tested, you must have symptoms or be around someone who is COVID positive. For the time being, I was told to practice all the good hygiene we've been recommended and told to do.
I countered, explaining how on our state and local health leaders said anyone who attended the protests should go get tested, symptoms or not.
She, again, explained that tests are only being given to people with some sort of COVID-19 symptoms or exposure to a known positive COVID-19 patient.
I explained how I wasn't sure if I was exposed because I didn't know a majority of the people taking part in the protests. Someone I came across while covering the protests could have been positive and I might not have ever known.
I reached out to the Mecklenburg County Health Department who referred me to the state health officials.
I also reached out to the communication team at Atrium to see why there was confusion between state and local leaders and our hospitals.
I was told the team at Atrium was looking into it and would likely have an answer sometime on Thursday.
I only tried this one option on Wednesday, but I plan to try a drive-thru option on Thursday where a referral isn't needed.