“Hey, Doc,” said Yossarian. “I think I have coronavirus.”
Doc Daneeka picked up his chair and backed away until he was six feet from Yossarian. “Don’t worry, you don’t have coronavirus.”
“How do you figure that, Doc?” asked Yossarian. “I’ve got a bad fever and a cough and I’m starting to have trouble breathing.”
“Those are the symptoms of coronavirus, but you don’t have coronavirus.”
“How do you know?”
“You haven’t tested positive. If I give you the test and it comes back positive, that’s how you know you have coronavirus.”
“Okay, Doc, give me the test.”
Doc Daneeka shrugged. “They only give me five kits a day, so I can’t give one to just anyone.”
“But I have all the symptoms,” said Yossarian, shifting in his chair.
“Fine, I’ll do the questionnaire, but it won’t change the answer,” said Doc Daneeka, pulling out a pad and a pen. “Do you have a fever?”
“Yes, of course I do, you checked me yourself just now. A hundred and four.”
“Patient reports a fever of one hundred and four degrees,” said Doc Daneeka, writing something on his pad.
“Have you had a dry cough?”
Yossarian started to reply, but then a coughing fit came over him and he doubled over in pain. Doc Daneeka reached up to adjust the mask on his face, then remembered he wasn’t wearing one and covered his mouth and nose with his elbow. After a while, Yossarian continued, “Yes, I have a cough. It hurts like hell.”
“Patient reports a dry cough,” Doc Daneeka wrote. “Have you had difficulty breathing?”
“Since this morning, and it’s getting worse.”
“Patient reports trouble breathing,” Doc Daneeka said.
“There. So, can you give me the test now?” asked Yossarian.
“Wait, wait, we’re not done with the questionnaire. Just one more question. Have you had any contact with confirmed cases of coronavirus?”
“Nately and McWatt both have it. And Orr’s been keeping me up for days with his coughing. He’s got a terrible case.”
“Okay, give me a moment.” Doc Daneeka pulled out a stack of files and started flipping through them, making hmm-hmm noises to himself. After a bit, he looked up, satisfied, and nodded. “You don’t have coronavirus. You have no known contacts with confirmed carriers.”
“But I just told you, I’ve been around Nately and McWatt and Orr and they all have it.”
“They don’t have coronavirus.”
“Yes, they do, the cough and the fever and everything.”
“No, they don’t. They didn’t test positive.”
Yossarian relaxed. “That’s a relief. I was afraid there was a coronavirus cluster on the base. What do you think they have instead?”
Doc Daneeka shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t tested them.”
Yossarian immediately sat back up, nervous again. “I thought you said they tested negative. How could they test negative if you didn’t test them?”
“No, I said they didn’t test positive.”
“But the only reason they didn’t test positive was because you didn’t test them at all!” said Yossarian, agitated.
“That’s right,” said Doc Daneeka, clearly pleased that Yossarian understood him at last.
“And you can’t test me until they test positive.”
“That’s right, too.”
“So why don’t you give them the test too, and then we can all get treated?”
Doc Daneeka sighed and pulled out some sheets of paper from his files. “They don’t qualify for the test. Look, here’s Orr’s questionnaire. And here’s McWatt’s. No contact with confirmed cases.”
Yossarian squinted. From six feet away, all he could make out was a big red stamp reading INELIGIBLE at the bottom of each sheet. “So let me get this straight. You can’t test me unless I have contact with someone who tests positive. But you haven’t tested any of my contacts because they haven’t had any contact with anyone who tests positive.”
“Yes, that’s right. Testing resources are extremely limited. The kits came with strict orders not to give them to anyone who fails the questionnaire.”
Yossarian thought for a bit. “You’re really going to send me back out where I’m going to cough all over everyone else on the base? So if Dunbar comes in here and says ‘I’ve got trouble breathing, I think I have coronavirus’ he won’t get tested either because I didn’t get tested.”
Doc Daneeka smiled again. “Yes, that’s what it says in the Army coronavirus guidance.”
Yossarian sighed, resigned. “How many cases are there on the base?”
Yossarian leaned in toward Doc Daneeka. Doc Daneeka leaned back to keep an even six feet away. “Just one more question. How many tests have you performed?”
Yossarian pushed himself to his feet, staggered out of the room, screamed for a bit, broke down coughing, then came back in and slumped in the chair.
“It’s like I said,” Doc Daneeka said, as though Yossarian had been sitting there all along. “The Army coronavirus guidance says I can’t test anyone who hasn’t had contact with a confirmed case, and there are no confirmed cases on this base.” He pulled out a rubber stamp, inked it, and stamped INELIGIBLE on the bottom of Yossarian’s form. “Look on the bright side, though. At least you don’t have coronavirus.”
With thanks to to Maciej Cegłowski for the observation for the observation that this is a Joseph Heller pandemic.