Six Days Before Dying From COVID-19, He Tried to Get Tested and Was Turned Away

The 2019 novel coronavirus.
Flickr via BeckyEtal
Flickr via BeckyEtal

The first person in Arizona known to die of COVID-19, a Phoenix Aviation Department employee, wrote on Facebook six days before he died that he was unable to get tested for the coronavirus.

"Why isn't this available in the US?" the man wrote in a March 11 Facebook post alongside a video of drive-thru coronavirus testing clinics set up in other countries. "I went to urgent care yesterday, only to learn they don't do coronavirus testing..."

The director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, Dr. Cara Christ, repeatedly has stated that there is a shortage of tests available and not everyone in Arizona who wants to get tested can get tested. The DHS has even actively discouraged health care providers from testing people for COVID-19.

The man, who was in his 50s, died on March 17. It took three days for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health to notify the city's Aviation Department that the man had tested positive for COVID-19.

Phoenix New Times learned of the man's attempt to get tested after an anonymous caller said the deceased man had attempted to get tested two weeks prior to his death, but was denied even though he had symptoms. The caller did not leave a name or contact information, but supplied the name and Facebook page of the victim. New Times is choosing to leave out the victim's name to preserve his family's privacy.

The city could not confirm the identify of the man who died due to privacy concerns, but an online obituary matching the man's name, age, and date of death features two comments from fellow city of Phoenix employees praising the man's intellect, compassion, and eye for details. The man's LinkedIn page shows he worked for the city of Phoenix for 15 years.

On March 22, one friend, Bella Bates, left a comment on a video the man had shared on his Facebook prior to his death. "You saw the good in everything, and you saw the possibility in everyone!" Bates wrote. "I’ll think of you in every Mountain & waterfall & of course every aquarium! RIP friend."

Bates spoke with ABC15 about her friend's death last week. "To lose him to something like this seems unfair. He was cheated," Bates said. "That's why I have this #RightToTest, that is a basic right we should have ... Nobody should be sent home without this test." (When contacted by New Times, Bates said that was all she knew about the man's attempts to get tested.)

A statement from City Manager Ed Zuercher said the victim worked in a "remote office" at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and "had minimal interaction within any of the terminals and related airport facilities." Since the man's death, two other Phoenix aviation employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Meg O'Connor was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from April 2019 to April 2020.