What it’s like to get tested in the COVID-19 pandemic

Crain’s Detroit Business

Getting tested for coronavirus, as one might imagine, is quite an experience, both psychologically and physiologically.

Monday afternoon I took my wife, Olya, a health care worker, for a first-responder test at a site in Detroit operated by Wayne State University Physician Group at 400 E. Mack Ave.

Not to complain too much, but the line of cars stretched from Mack Avenue on Brush Street all the way to I-94 ramp, at least five blocks. Not sure how many cars were in line starting at 1:30 when we arrived, but it was more than 100.

I was told later by a DMC health care worker that she got the swab test after waiting only 15 minutes in line at the Michigan State Fairgrounds, which is being operated by the city of Detroit, Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System and Trinity Health Michigan. New Jersey-based BioReference Laboratories is processing the 400 tests per day.

“It was a well-oiled machine! Very impressive,” said the DMC health care worker in an email. Big Note: You need appointment from a doctor to get tested at the fairgrounds.

Again, not to complain, too much, but we had a little different experience.

When we finally left UPG after a 2 1/2-hour wait, it was a little after 4 p.m. The swab test site, which had at least 25 volunteers, doctors and nurses, is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Organizers say it will stay open through April. As of March 30, UPG has tested 1,750, about 230 per day, or about 46 per hour.

First responders are coming from outside of Detroit and Dearborn, including Wixom, Shelby Township, Oakland University, Sterling Heights, even health care professionals from Beaumont Health facilities, a UPG spokesman said.

In Detroit, the first-responder testing is a partnership between UPG, Wayne State University Health Sciences and Dearborn-based ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services). ACCESS is conducting testing Tuesday and Thursday at 6450 Maple St. in Dearborn.

The wait

As we sat in the car, listening to news and music, talking about coronavirus, living in Detroit and making plans for dinner later, several cars got out of line and sped ahead. After the third car passed, a Detroit Police Department patrol car followed in quick pursuit. Not sure what happened, but line cutting is very rude, regardless of the reason.

Along the way, there was a restaurant open: Chili, Mustard and Onions, taking carry-out orders only. We saw three people come up to the door in the 30 minutes or so it took us to get past the block. If it was a pizza or sushi joint, I might have ordered something myself.

Once we started to turn into the UPG parking lot, I became a lot happier. We were almost to the tent. But then I saw the tight line of cars swerve around the parking lot and into the side lot. My smile stopped and I said, “Well, we have another 30 minutes. Let’s listen to Schubert or Johnny Cash. Beethoven is too serious.” Olya’s favorite music is classical, with country music second. Go figure.

By then, Olya was getting a bit hungry. We forgot to eat lunch and she was subsisting on coffee and a fruit smoothie for breakfast. I, at least, ate a piece of ham with cheese before we left. She didn’t want my custom sandwich, sans bread. We did have a bottle of emergency water. The first tent at UPG was handing some out as well.

Finally we saw the two tents ahead with the blue gown-clad health care workers and doctors with face shields and N95 masks. The line split into two. Another 10 minutes passed. We could see the holdup. It was more than just a quick swab.

Volunteers held laptop computers are were asking several questions. Are you a first responder? Do you have a driver’s license? Show me your insurance card? They took pictures of both. Do you have a fever? Other symptoms?

Once Olya answered the questions, we were motioned to move ahead to the swabber doctor.

“Good afternoon. I am going to insert the swab inside your nasal cavity and turn it around for 10 seconds,” the young male doctor said rather pleasantly. I smiled. I am sure Olya didn’t.

Sitting on the passenger side, Olya was patient and did not move while the young doctor conducted the test. As promised, he inserted the long swab device and twisted it around inside her nose, back and forth.

She asked in a strange voice if it was over. He replied, “Yes.”

After the second-long shock wore off, Olya exclaimed in disbelief to the doctor: “I never had anything like that in all my life.”

The doctor apologized, saying: “I am sorry I had to do it for 10 seconds. You can leave. I hope you feel better. Thanks for stopping by. The test will be ready in five to seven days.”

Later, as we drove away. I was relieved to be out of the line. I asked Olya how it felt.

“I didn’t expect it to be so deep. I had tears in my eyes, but they were not from crying. I was so surprised,” said Olya.

Hopefully, she will get the test results back by Friday, when she wants to go back to work at the hospital. Last week she starting feeling feverish, more than a 100-degree temperature, coughing, a sort throat. Over the weekend she started having a shortness of breath.

“I don’t want to go to work unless I get tested,” she told me last week. “I don’t want to spread anything to my co-workers and patients.”

Her wish was granted, but I think the test was a lot more intrusive than she expected.

Hope everybody tested is negative. But I know from statistics that 16 percent to 24 percent or so of those who have been tested have come back positive.

Still, better to know.

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