Everyone has heard about the coronavirus test in one vague way or another. We’ve read about it in the news, watched Trump call them ‘overrated’ and seen clips of people in PPE poking around in someone’s nose. The UK managed to go from virtually zero testing capacity to being able to carry out 200,000 tests a day by the end of May and now, when cases are being tracked and traced, testing is going to play an even greater role in reducing the spread of the virus. But what is getting a test actually like? Should we believe that questionable friend of a cousin who swears hands down that the test made him throw up? To get a test do you need to be so ill that you’re in hospital or can you just rock up to a testing centre? Where even are the testing centres?
I had all these questions when I started to feel ill after travelling to London about a month ago. I’d worn a mask on the tube and used hand sanitizer in shops but there was always a chance that the temperature and sore throat I had started to develop was coronavirus, and with a key worker parent, I couldn’t take any risks. And so began the surprisingly short and easy process of getting a coronavirus test.
As I had some of the symptoms, I was able to book a test through the government website. The form I had to submit gave them all the information they would need if my test result was positive and they needed to start the process of track and tracing my contacts, and gave me a QR code and reference number which was used to link my information and test together. While I can’t speak for everywhere in the UK, particularly for places experiencing local outbreaks or in rural areas, finding a slot at a nearby test site was very easy; there were hundreds of slots available each day and I booked a test for that afternoon at a test centre just a couple of miles away from my house.
A couple of hours after booking the test, I arrived at the test site and held up a QR code to my car window, where it was scanned by one of the many workers there who were helping with the tests. Driving through the site, which in normal life is just a car park, was quite the adventure, with people holding up signs with instructions and a phone number so that staff could explain the process without having to yell. I had expected a hive of activity at the site, but it was empty, save for me, one other car and the staff. The test was passed through the car window, along with information of how the process of taking the test works, although you could have asked for assistance and someone would come and poke you in the nose for you.
The test is not something to fear. It’s uncomfortable, but infinitely less painful than the guilt of accidentally spreading coronavirus to your loved ones because you didn’t know you had it. It involves rubbing what looks like a Q-tip for giants on your tonsils and then up a nostril for about 15 seconds, and then sealing that all up in a series of tubes and bags with biohazard written on it in big letters. I was then asked to throw this out the car window and into a box where the tests were stored before being taken off to be processed. In my greatest demonstration of athletic prowess since school sports day, I got it in the box in one and was then free to drive off and wait for the results. The whole process was almost amusing, like I was in a dodgy sci-fi film or spy drama, until the seriousness of the situation hit me and I remembered that I was there because I was potentially infected with a deadly disease.
Luckily for me, the test came back negative. The results can take up to five days to come back, during which time your household has to be in complete lock-down, but mine came back the next morning in the form of a text saying I was in the all-clear. The whole process, from booking the test to getting the results took less than 24 hours and gave me the peace of mind that my family and I were healthy and could safely return to work. Unlike at the start of the pandemic, the UK now has the capacity to test the mildly ill and asymptomatic contacts. We are now in a crucial phase of the pandemic where we could get the virus under control through contact tracing, testing and social distancing. If in doubt, please get tested. I promise it won’t hurt your nose too much.
Currently, anyone who has coronavirus symptoms or lives with someone who does can get a test through the NHS, as well as everyone who lives in areas that are experiencing outbreaks. At the moment, this includes people in Leicester, Luton, Pendle and Blackburn with Darwen, although this will change over time. Tests must be done in the first five days of having symptoms and can either be done with a home kit that is sent to you in the post or at a test centre, the majority of which are drive-in only. For more information, see the NHS or government websites.