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The City Journals

I was Tested for COVID-19. It was a Lot Easier than I Expected

May 06, 2020 10:34AM ● By Alison Brimley

The state of Utah ranks 5th in the nation for percentage of the population tested for COVID-19, one sign that made officials comfortable loosening restrictions as long as people take precautions like wearing masks in public places. (Photo by Engin Akyurt)

By Alison Brimley | [email protected]

For a week, just as I was drifting off to sleep, my body seemed to forget how to breathe and I’d jolt awake, gasping. My husband suggested maybe I was developing sleep apnea. A friend said it sounded like asthma. I didn’t rule either of them out, but I also knew shortness of breath is one of the indicators of COVID-19.

I didn’t have any other symptoms. Still, I wanted to rule it out while I sought other treatment. I decided to get tested.

The morning of April 27, after a bad night’s sleep, I downloaded the app “Healthy Together,” which I’d seen friends mention on social media. I gave it basic information (my age and gender), and it asked me to identify my symptoms. Yes, I was experiencing “new or increased shortness of breath,” and yes, I felt short of breath while sitting or resting. The app said I needed to be tested for COVID-19.

Since I’d indicated that I preferred to be treated in the Intermountain Healthcare System, and Intermountain performs telephone screenings, I was given a number to call before being approved for a test. I prepared to explain over the phone specifically what I was experiencing and justify why I wanted a test even though I was pretty sure it wasn’t COVID — but the Intermountain employee didn’t ask me about any of that. Instead, we ran through the same list of symptoms the app had asked about. Yes, I did feel short of breath; no, I didn’t have fever, muscle aches, sore throat or diarrhea. After I gave my address, she told me the nearest testing facility was the Alta View InstaCare. She put my name on the list for testing that day, so I could have a drive-through test any time between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

My call ended at about 8:45 a.m., so I left for InstaCare right away. Signs in the parking lot pointed me in the direction of the drive-through testing site. I pulled into a numbered parking stall beneath a tent, where a posted sign gave me a number to call when I arrived. Over the phone, the employee confirmed my name, birth date, insurance information (though testing is free to all Utah residents, insured or not), and which stall I was in. Within minutes of hanging up, I saw a man in full protective gear at my window.

This was the part I was nervous about: I’d heard the test was a nasal swab that went painfully deep. The tester asked me to look straight ahead with my head against my headrest. What followed was something like having my brain briefly dusted with a pipe cleaner; I forced myself not to sneeze or jerk away. It wasn’t terribly comfortable, but it was quick — just a few seconds in each nostril. Less than 10 minutes after I had pulled into the parking lot, I was on my way home, a tickle in my nose but no residual pain.

Between the telephone screener, the tester, and the information packet I’d been given in the Instacare parking lot, I was told I would either receive my test results via phone call in three to five, five to seven or five to 10 days. I was tested on April 27 (a Monday); as of this writing (one week later), I still haven’t received a call. However, by Wednesday morning, I was able to see my lab results using Intermountain’s online MyHealth portal. As I expected, SARS-Cov-2 (more commonly known as the coronavirus) was “not detected.” My results had taken less than 48 hours. 

Happily, I have joined the ranks of the 95% of Utahns tested for COVID-19 whose test was negative. Given the horror stories of inadequate testing across the country, I was pleasantly surprised by how quick and hassle-free the process was for me personally. No longer are tests being restricted to those who have recently traveled to China or Italy, who have come in contact with a known infected person, or who appear in the emergency room in severe respiratory distress. I was fortunate to receive a test simply because I asked for one. Given that widespread availability of testing will be a prerequisite for safely reopening our state and resuming normal life, this seems like a hopeful sign.