Taking the test: TC reporter discovers firsthand how COVID-19 screening works

It started on Wednesday evening. I noticed my throat was a little sore, so I popped a Tylenol. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have given this sore throat a second thought. But these are not normal circumstances. I was a little worried.

On Thursday morning, my throat was worse and my brain went directly to COVID-19.

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“This can’t be happening,” I thought.

I googled “causes for a sore throat.” I asked Siri to turn on the flashlight so I could see the back of my throat. Definitely red. But other than that, I felt fine. No other symptoms.

I didn’t know what to do. I worried about passing the virus onto my family. I felt guilty that maybe I hadn’t been careful enough. I worried that I might have infected some people I work with or people I’d interviewed in person.

But I felt a responsibility to my family to try and figure out what was going on.

I didn’t want anyone to get sick because of me.

I called 811, B.C.’s provincial health information and advice phone line, operated by HealthLink B.C. I told the “health navigator” on the phone I had a sore throat and wasn’t sure if I should get tested. We established that because I am a newspaper reporter, I am an essential service worker. She put me through to a registered nurse.

The nurse told me to immediately self-isolate for 10 days, to keep two metres away from my family and to wear a mask when I was in the same room as them. I was to use my own bathroom, towels, utensils and bedding. I was not to leave home, except to get tested. And then I would wear a mask, go directly to the testing centre and drive home, masked. If the test came back negative, I was free to go out again.

The nurse gave me the phone number of the testing centre and told me to call for an appointment at the drive-through location. Waiting time on the line to make the appointment was 65 minutes.

My appointment was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Friday.

This really was happening.

By Friday morning, however, I felt better. The sore throat had disappeared, but just to be on the safe side, I went through with the test.

When I drove up to the drive-through COVID-19 testing location on Cook Street, a nurse walked up to the car in full protective gear — mask, gloves, gown, protective shield and cap.

She checked my name, address and date of birth, and told me she would insert a swab in my nose and count backward from 10.

“Your eyes will water and it will sting, but you concentrate on relaxing and wiggle your toes,” she said.

I reclined my seat a little, tilted my head back and lowered my mask.

She inserted the long, thin, nasopharyngeal swab in my left nostril.

“10-9-8-7 … ”

Hey this wasn’t so bad.

“6- 5 … .”

Ooh, a sudden sting filled my eyes with tears. I wiggled my toes.

“ … 4-3-2-1.”

And it was over. I had survived the test.

I pulled up my mask and drove home to wait for the results.

When I told people I had been tested, everyone asked if it hurt.

I, too, had seen all images on the news of people flinching in their cars as the swab went in. I’d read an account by a paramedic, who said getting tested was like having a Q-tip swirled around in her brain.

Did it hurt?

Just a little. But getting tested was quick and easy. Everyone I dealt with was friendly, professional and calm.

Less than 24 hours later, a text came in from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. “COVID-19 test results for Louise D are negative.”

As with the vast majority of those tested in B.C. — out of 96,517 total tests as of Monday, there have been 2,224 confirmed cases — my test had come back negative.

Testing negative has given me a break from the stress many of us are feeling about the pandemic.

Now, when I’m out for a stroll and runners and walkers negotiate social distancing, I feel like shouting out: “Hey don’t worry. I’m negative.”

I know I’m not immune, however. I’ll continue to be cautious and, in the words of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, calm, kind and safe.


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