(Updated at 1:35 p.m.) During the coronavirus outbreak, healthcare workers are being hailed as heroes.
But one Arlington doctor had the police called to her office this week by a resident who was outraged that she was conducting in-car COVID-19 tests in the building’s parking lot.
Dr. Lillian Hunt owns a ground-floor office condo at The Chatham condominium building, located a mile south of Ballston at 4501 Arlington Blvd. She says she started testing her patients last Monday “as soon as my commercial labs could give me the test kits.”
“I started testing because patients and colleagues with exposures and/or viral symptoms could not get tested by the overwhelmed public sector,” Dr. Hunt told ARLnow. “When Arlington announced public testing the prior week, I sent an order to a patient who returned from Europe just before the international flights were restricted. The patient had a fever of 102.5, dry cough, sore throat, and severe malaise. She drove to the site across from W-L high school but was unable to get the test done due to excess demand.”
Despite her testing protocol reportedly following health department guidelines, some condo residents were incensed and wrote complaints to building management. (An Arlington health department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.)
“Management received some emails yesterday from residents with concerns about the doctor testing patients in their vehicles in the parking lot,” said a notice set to residents this week, adding that the condo association board and its attorney have been informed of the situation.
One resident went so far as to call the police. That resident, whose first name is Erika, reached out to ARLnow with her concerns.
“At the Chatham condominium in Arlington, Va. there is a rogue doctor’s office — Dr. Lillian Hunt — doing COVID-19 tests in the condo parking lot, much to the dismay of its hundreds of residents who live there,” she wrote. “With the closure of the gym at the building, many residents also use the parking lot as a home gym — many unknowingly exercising right next to COVID patients in their cars lining up for tests. Arlington is destined for a spike in COVID cases. And Chatham is going to be the epicenter.”
Erika also posted about her concerns on a Facebook group for the building.
An employee in the doctor’s office says they were “shocked” when police showed up and knocked on the door. Dr. Hunt said she was surprised and “saddened.”
“I was frankly stunned to have the Chatham residents call in a police complaint on me without any communication of their concern directly,” she said. “The officer was unaware that I was operating from a licensed medical office in a condo I own. The officer seemed as confused as my staff as to the complaint and quietly left.”
“My patients in the building did however call to express their support,” she added.
In an email to the condo association, Dr. Hunt said the fears are unfounded — testing does not pose a danger to residents.
“I am a Harvard / Vanderbilt grad with 40 years of clinical experience. I can assure you that as my neighbors, you are in NO DANGER from my collecting nasal swabs from patients sitting in their cars in the parking lot,” she wrote. “I am strictly following all medical guidelines relative to this pandemic. COVID-19 testing is a positive for all of YOU in that it helps quickly quarantine infected individuals who could spread the coronavirus to you during your essential errands.”
Ultimately, building management backed the doctor, in an email sent to residents on Thursday.
“She is following recommendations for enhanced sanitization and use of personal protective equipment,” management said. “She is not using her unit or the common elements in a manner that violates the condominium instruments, but is instead working to provide needed medical services during a difficult time.”
The primary danger, Dr. Hunt said, is to herself. She is currently undergoing chemotherapy and does not have the N95 masks that help protect healthcare workers from disease.
“I am forced to use a basic surgical mask because I am unable to obtain even one N95 respirator mask,” she said, noting that she is using glasses, nitrile gloves, lab coats and a chemo beanie hat. “I am certainly at risk… My Oncologist was horrified that I am doing this while on chemotherapy and I had to lie to her that I was using a N95 mask.”
Despite the risks and the complaints, she’ll keep testing.
“I am the fourth generation in a family of doctors and I feel very blessed to be in a profession I love,” Dr. Hunt said. “I feel strongly that I need to help in any way possible. It is heartbreaking to see the fear in the eyes of my ill colleagues and patients. Being able to reassure them in a timely manner that they do not have a positive test for COVID-19 is a wonderful experience.”
Dr. Hunt noted that the positive tests she has gotten back so far “have all been noncompliant young adults who did not take the COVID-19 precautions seriously.”
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