Health, Lifestyle, Opinion

Yarin: A tale of two COVID tests

This article was published 1 year(s) and 8 month(s) ago.

Carly Hodgkins, the site lead at the North Shore Community College mobile testing location, sticks a COVID-19 test swab out of the truck door. (Jakob Menendez )

In April of 2020, my four roommates decided one by one that they wanted to weather the early days of the pandemic back home with their families. 

Suddenly, I was alone in a cold, empty house. There was nothing to do but sit and worry, and I was a natural at it; eventually, though, I decided I’d had enough.

My father is immunocompromised, so staying with him wasn’t as easy as just getting in my car and hitting the Mass Pike. If I wanted to keep everyone safe, I’d need a negative COVID test.

Back in those days, getting a test lined up was a tall order. It may seem like light years ago now, but you used to need a doctor’s recommendation to set one up, and even that was no guarantee.

I still wanted to try. I called my doctor and he read me a list of conditions that would qualify me for a recommendation. Most of the conditions were medical ― pregnancy, heart conditions, cancer ― and for a second I faltered. The reason I wanted a test suddenly seemed paltry and insignificant. I could spend the next few months alone in an empty house, right? Wouldn’t my test be better suited if given to a pregnant woman with tumors and a heart murmur? Then my doctor said the magic symptom: “Anxiety.”

“Hey, I have that!”

My doctor’s recommendation then had to get approval from the COVID arm of his hospital. I waited a few days to hear back, during which time I did some more sitting and worrying. I hadn’t heard of anyone asking for a COVID test and actually getting one. Before calling my doctor, I’d even wondered if they were an urban legend. Then the hospital called me back.

I’ll never forget the first COVID-19 test I ever got. The hospital did a commendable job setting up a testing station (erected in a back parking lot), but they were out of their depth.

There were no signs to point the way, so I drove around the snaking hospital complex at least three times before finding the right path. Once I got there, I discovered six lanes of cars idling in the freezing rain. I pulled in and discovered beyond them a row of emergency medical tents — the kind you see in pictures of refugee camps. Each tent was manned by two staffers, both dressed head-to-toe in disposable, plastic medical gear. One staffer stood outside each tent and jetted back and forth between it and people’s cars. A second staffer sat inside, on swab duty.

I was unnerved by the whole thing, and their fearlessness was the only thing that soothed me. 

It took about 45 minutes, but eventually I got closer to the front. As if to confirm my feelings of guilt, everyone else in line was some combination of old, frail, infirm, and pregnant. 

Finally, a staff member asked me to mask up and roll down my window, then took my information. At some point, probably due to the nervous fidgets, my mask broke. I asked for another, but was denied due to short supply.

After waiting another 20 minutes, I was asked to exit my car and approach my tent. I held the mask over my mouth, ducked my head down so that nobody could see my indiscretion, and booked it.

Inside the tent, a woman with silver hair and kind eyes was gracious about my busted mask. She sourced another one and then stuck a cotton swab so far up my nose I sneezed all the way home.

Around a week later, my doctor called me to report a negative test. It cost $300.

Fast forward to December of 2021. About a week and a half ago, I came into close contact with someone who was diagnosed with COVID.

So here’s what I did: I cold-called my local community health center, and after taking my information over the phone, they told me that they could slot me in a few days later. 

When the day arrived, I drove across town, parked my car, walked in, got a cotton swab stuck halfway up my nose (big improvement), left two minutes after I arrived and got my results three days after that. They apologized for the late response.

While some things haven’t changed ― namely wait times and the relative scarcity of COVID tests ― most of the testing process is unbelievably streamlined in comparison to the first few months of the pandemic. 

You don’t need to be in dire mental or physical condition to receive a test. Sometimes people can walk in without an appointment. Sometimes there are two or three testing places available on a single block. There are even over-the-counter kits that can be taken at home. Results come in 15 minutes and it doesn’t cost a penny. 

Part of our ability to do things that we couldn’t do in April 2020 ― like eat at restaurants, go to work, see concerts and movies, and go to work ― is due to the fact that testing is so easy now. We have elements of our lives back that I used to wonder if I’d ever see again.

I don’t want the long lines and reports of low stock to discourage anyone from trying to get a test if they need one. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that they are COVID negative before engaging in some of the joys of life that we only recently got back. And besides, as far as testing goes, it could be a lot worse. Trust me.

The best way to find a COVID test near you is to go to and fill out the online form. Make sure to bring a mask that won’t break.

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