On Sunday we got a text message from our neighbours in the unit downstairs that there was free COVID-19 testing going on in our neighbourhood, at a primary school just at the end of our street.
Since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the US and the so-called 'shelter-in-place' (don't call them 'lockdowns') were imposed in the SF Bay Area, getting tested was nigh impossible unless you were already exhibiting symptoms, and even then, many were turned away unless they were severely ill because of the shortages of test kits.
About two weeks ago I got an email from One Medical; the 'chain' of medical centres that we use; suggesting, without saying it outright, that they are opening up COVID-19 testing to pretty much anybody, but you'd still need to make and appointment and complete a survey, which adds a bit of friction to the process. I held off because of that, and also wondering if those precious tests should be reserved for other patients who may need it more than myself, given how bad the situation is here.
The photo of the flyer that was sent by our neighbours suggested that was was free for anyone, just walk up, and so I did. I arrived at about 11:30am and checked in at the desk that was set up outside. The testing site was set up by Primary Bio. As it turns out, they wanted people to pre-register too, but it was straightforward and easily done on my phone. The only details the asked for were my name, DOB, email and contact phone number, and a short survey of symptoms (if any) and ethnicity. No social security number or proof of insurance required, which was a surprise.
As there was no line, the barcode on my phone was scanned, and I was sent straight upstairs to the rooftop of the school where several stations were set up – I counted 6 – where a staff member confirmed my details, and another, in full protective gear - Tyvek suit, face mask and face shield, took me aside and explained the process. For this PCR test, they were taking throat swabs instead of the much more invasive and uncomfortable nasal swab. As such it took about 10 seconds for him to take a sample and that was it.
Curiously, as I was sent on my way, I was asked to make another appointment for a second test the following week. I'm not sure if this is because the throat swabs may not be as accurate as the nasal swab (I don't know if this is true), or if they just want to monitor infection/conversion rates among the same individuals.
That same evening at about 7:30pm I got both an email and text message from Primary saying that my results were ready to be viewed. This was a lot quicker than I expected for a PCR test, which I thought would take a few days.
A relief, but not surprising. We've been abundantly careful by minimising any exposure while outdoors and on the occasional trips to the shops. Anthony also received a negative COVID-19 test result a few weeks ago as a pre-requisite for admission to hospital for surgery. If either of us had SARS-Cov-2, it would've been passed to the other by now. Still it's a relief to know for sure. However, a negative PCR test only tells half the story (and could still be a false negative), and I'm now curious to get an antibody test done as well.
I only hope more people are able to get tested and test sites like these that are accessible to all. If any further attempts to restart the economy are to be successful, extensive testing and contact tracing is the only way to do it safely.