Santa Rosa police detective who died of coronavirus complications was twice denied test for virus
As she spent two weeks in mid-March fighting off a fever, aching body and shortness of breath, Santa Rosa Police Detective Marylou Armer twice asked doctors to be tested for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus that would kill her by the end of the month.
But Armer’s requests were denied by Kaiser Permanente’s Vallejo Medical Center. A doctor told the 43-year-old that her age and lack of underlying medical conditions meant she was not considered vulnerable to the illness that has killed more than 100,000 people worldwide, said her older sister, Mari Lau of Menifee in Riverside County.
By the time the American Canyon resident was finally cleared to be tested on March 23, after initially being denied for the third time, “it was too late already,” Lau, 47, said.
When Armer’s husband brought her to the emergency room that day, she was quickly sedated and intubated in an effort to boost the dangerously low levels of oxygen in her bloodstream, her sister said. A little while later, her test for COVID-19 came back positive and she was placed in a medically induced coma in the hopes that her condition would improve. She never woke up and died March 31.
Armer’s husband has asked for privacy for him and his daughter since his wife’s death, but the family has agreed to let Lau share details about Armer’s life and illness.
“It is very frustrating,” Lau said of her sister’s inability to be tested at a time when medical providers across the United States were imploring the federal government to give them more testing kits to better track the spread of the virus. “A person knows their body and knows when something is wrong.”
In a statement, Kaiser on Saturday confirmed that Armer was not immediately tested.
Dr. David Witt, the HMO’s national infectious disease expert, emphasized she was in regular contact with her physician and that doctors had adhered to “public health authority testing guidelines, which have been based on a very limited availability of tests.
“We offer heartfelt sympathies to Detective Armer’s family and loved ones at this profoundly difficult time,” Witt said in the statement.
When Armer first got sick, she told her sister that she thought she was coming down with a cold or the flu. She had a fever, body aches, shortness of breath and some chills. A few days later, her fever and body aches subsided a little, but she still had some trouble breathing.
“She said she’d never felt this kind of sickness in her body before,” Lau said.
A sworn officer in the Santa Rosa Police Department, Armer was the first California peace officer to die from the disease as well as the first Napa County resident. She is one of nine Santa Rosa police officers and staff to test positive for the coronavirus as of Friday.
The last time Lau heard from her sister was when Armer’s husband dropped her off at the hospital emergency room to get tested for the virus. A little while later, Armer told her sister the doctors were going to intubate her for 24 hours because she was having difficulty breathing and her oxygen level was so low.
“It was horrible,” Lau said of being far away from her sister in her final days. “I didn’t know how bad she was until that day.”
Hours after Armer was put under, her test results came back positive for the coronavirus.
Armer’s condition worsened overnight, and doctors told her family that they had to put her in a medically induced coma for at least five days. Doctors had hoped, Lau said, that the coma would allow Armer’s body to recuperate - to restart her lungs while she was on life support.
Each day, Armer’s condition would progress a little bit before it worsened again, her sister said. No one was allowed to see her because she was in isolation.
Lau, Armer’s husband, stepdaughter, mother and brother sent voice recordings of themselves for hospital staff to play for Armer while she was in a coma.
“When they played that, they said that her heartbeat kind of went up a beat and her oxygen went up a little, which was good news,” Lau said. “But that evening (before she died), her condition just got really bad.”
The next day, Armer’s husband called Lau and told her the doctors said Armer may not make it through the next few hours. Soon after, she was gone.
“The toughest thing about this situation is not being able to be there for her when she was at the hospital and being able to see her and talk to her,” Lau said.
Witt, the infectious disease expert for Kaiser, noted that as the guidelines for testing have changed during the course of the pandemic, so has Kaiser’s policy.