The number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. surpassed 4 million in late July. Certain parts of the country have been hit particularly hard this month, including California and North Carolina, both places where I’ve recently spent time.
After flying back to Los Angeles, where I currently live, from Charlotte, North Carolina, where my family lives, I decided to get tested for the virus earlier this month. More than two weeks later, I’m still waiting for my results.
There are two types of tests for Covid-19: a viral test, which tells you if you have a current infection, and an antibody test, which might tell you if you’ve had a past infection. An antibody test might not show if you have a current infection, “because it can take one to three weeks after infection for your body to make antibodies,” the CDC site notes. Having antibodies to the virus that causes Covid-19 may protect you from getting infected with the virus again, but if it does, “we do not know how much protection the antibodies might provide or how long this protection might last,” says the CDC.
An antibody test involves drawing blood, whereas a viral test requires either a nasal swab or a saliva sample. I did a viral test at a “drive-thru” location in L.A.
Testing may look different depending on where you’re located. The CDC encourages you to look at your state or local health department’s website to find the latest information on testing in your area. After a quick Google search, I found a list free testing sites in L.A. County.
There were over 50 locations to choose from, including “drive up” and “walk up” testing sites. On a Thursday night (July 9), I found a site about 30 minutes from my apartment that had appointments available for the next Monday (July 13). There were locations closer to my apartment, but they didn’t have availability until later in the week.
I filled out a brief survey that asked if I’d been in contact with anyone who had tested positive for the virus and whether I had certain symptoms. I also provided my insurance information. Testing is supposed to be free (even if you’re uninsured, thanks to legislation signed in March), but mix-ups have left some people who got tested with big bills, CBS reports.
On Monday morning, testing day, I received an email reminding me of my 8:30 a.m. appointment. It included the testing site address, my reference ID and a list of what I needed to bring, including my confirmation email (on paper or on my phone) with my reference ID and a photo ID with my name and birth date. It also asked me to show up 15 minutes before my appointment.
I arrived at the testing site, located in a large parking lot, at 8:15 a.m. It was easy to spot, thanks to an abundance of signs and orange cones.
Immediately upon arriving, without opening my window, I was asked to place my ID in the side window of my car and show a copy of my confirmation email.
My ID remained in the upper section of my window throughout the entire process and was checked multiple times by staffers.
I got in line behind three cars. Another staffer approached my window to check my ID and reference number and then returned with my testing kit. The kit had my name, date of birth, address and reference number on it, which I confirmed were correct by giving a thumbs up. The staffer then placed the testing kit on my windshield.
I waited for about 15 minutes as the three cars ahead of me completed their tests. When it was my turn, a staffer again confirmed my identity and reference ID. Then, she told me through the window how the nasal swab test would work, asked me to put my mask on and lower my window a few inches to take the swab. I took the swab, closed my window, removed my mask below my nose (I was asked to keep my mouth covered) and collected the sample myself, by swirling the swab 10 times in each nostril.
I put my mask back on, lowered my window, returned the swab and drove out of the testing site about 20 minutes after I first arrived.
The entire process, from signing up for a slot online to doing the test, was simple and efficient. I didn’t pay anything out of pocket and I felt lucky to get an appointment near me relatively quickly, especially since it’s getting harder to get a coronavirus test in California if you don’t have symptoms.
I didn’t anticipate such a long turnaround, though: It’s now been over two weeks since I got tested, and while I’ve received two emails alerting me that my results are still being processed, I still don’t have answers.
I’m not the only one experience long delays. The average time to receive results is now more than two days for top priority patients, including hospital patients and symptomatic health-care workers, and for everybody else, the turnaround time is more than seven days, according to Quest Diagnostics.
Delays are, not surprisingly, problematic. Health officials have said that when the turnaround time is so long, testing ultimately becomes unhelpful when it comes to halting the spread of the virus. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, who’s been one of the most outspoken public figures on the subject of coronavirus, told CNBC in July that most U.S. coronavirus tests are a “complete waste” because it takes so long to get results in time for people to self-isolate once they find out they have the virus.
“You need to get it back as soon as possible so that somebody can change their behavior, so they’re not infecting other people,” Gates added.
By the time I have my results, it’ll be time to return for another test.
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