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This all started on Tuesday, July 7, when I first began to feel a little “under the weather.”
It was obvious I had a mild virus of some sort.
Was it COVID-19? Probably not, since I didn’t have a fever or a cough.
But I know from my work at Healthline that it’s important to get tested nonetheless. I also knew to immediately put my wife and myself in self-isolation at our San Francisco Bay Area home, just in case.
At first, the earliest appointment for a COVID-19 test I could find was Friday, July 17, at a place not too far from home.
Then my two daughters got involved.
One found a drive-thru facility that had openings on Sunday, July 12. I signed up myself and my wife.
The next day, the other daughter called after finding yet another facility even closer to home that seemed to have a handful of appointments available every morning.
I quickly grabbed a late-morning slot and was on my way a couple hours later.
The testing itself was pretty easy. I stood in a physically distanced line for a few minutes, then was led into a room where I performed the self-administered nasal swab.
In the next room, I waited a few more minutes and had blood drawn for an antibody test.
I was told the test results would take 8 to 9 days.
I’d get a text if the results were negative. A phone call if they were positive.
I canceled the July 17 appointment, but my wife and I still drove out on Sunday to the county health facility to get tested. That was also the first day the mild viral symptoms had disappeared.
This testing was also pretty easy, although it took more than 20 minutes to get to the front of the line.
At both testing sites, there were big signs telling people that no photos or videos were allowed. In our social media world, a necessity so patient privacy can be ensured.
Then the wait began.
The antibody results came back about a week later. They were negative. That meant I hadn’t had an infection in the past. It didn’t mean I didn’t have COVID-19 the week before.
No word, however, on the diagnostic test.
At this point, a long wait isn’t unusual. A lack of supplies at laboratories has created a significant backlog in turning around results as the demand for COVID-19 tests increase during the surge in cases.
Knowing this, I settled in.
Ten days passed. Then 12 days.
The results from the second test finally came in on Saturday, July 25, for both my wife and me — 13 days after we drove through the clinic.
The results were both negative, but at that point the test results were moot.
By midweek last week, my wife and I were both well past any potential contagious stage. The long wait also made any contact tracing efforts worthless.
It should be noted that my situation is nowhere near as serious as other people.
First and foremost, the symptoms for whatever virus I had were mild. Not everyone who contracts the new coronavirus is as fortunate.
I also have a job in which I can work from home. People who work at stores, medical facilities, construction sites, and other places don’t have that luxury. They have to miss work while they wait.
We also aren’t taking care of any children in our home and don’t have an elderly relative to watch over. The long wait for test results complicates those situations for the people who are caregivers.
That said, the wait for test results can disrupt a person’s life.
For starters, during the 5 days I had mild symptoms, I was constantly monitoring my condition to see whether it was getting worse. I took my temperature a couple times a day, and any cough put a worry in the back of my head.
I also kept a close eye on my wife, who’s a recent cancer survivor. We don’t know how strong her immune system is after her treatments, so we’re not sure how serious a case of COVID-19 she might develop if she contracted the virus.
We postponed two dental appointments as well as my wife’s scheduled mammogram to August.
The self-isolation also prevented me from going to the grocery store. So, Instacart deliveries were ordered in each of the first 2 weeks. I’m fortunate again in that we can afford the extra cost of home grocery delivery. Others aren’t in that financial situation.
I’m also in the midst of repainting the outside of our house. The isolation meant no trips to the hardware store. Fortunately, I had purchased the paint weeks ago. Still, extra brushes and rollers were ordered online.
The quarantine also required my older daughter, her husband, and their three children to stay away.
The same was true for our younger daughter, her husband, and their 6-year-old son. This daughter is also 7 months pregnant, so that added an extra barrier of caution.
Our children and grandchildren therefore weren’t able to visit for almost 3 weeks, even though we maintain a carefully distanced “social bubble” when they do come over.
All of this is a small sacrifice to be sure in the context of this deadly pandemic.
However, the isolation, the grocery deliveries, the Amazon orders, and other inconveniences could have been avoided if test results had been ready in 48 hours or less.
And then there’s the issue of contact tracing.
I made a mental note of the grocery store and the two hardware stores I had visited shortly before becoming ill. I didn’t visit any other places for 2 weeks.
However, contacting those facilities almost 3 weeks after I became ill doesn’t do much good. Anybody I would have passed the infection to would have already been sick.
Those folks would have been at their jobs not knowing they had been exposed for days or even a week or two. Anybody they passed the virus to would also have been oblivious.
And those folks would have passed it to others. And so and so on.
It’s like trying to catch a wave after four or five others have already come in.
The slow turnaround time on tests is one of the factors listed by those who don’t want schools to reopen in a traditional sense until later this year.
There’s a move to develop rapid, point-of-care COVID-19 tests that don’t require lab work. They can deliver results in minutes.
Seems like a good idea, because if I hadn’t gone to that second test, I’d still be waiting for the results of my first test.
That’s at 19 days and counting.
David Mills is a news editor at Healthline.