Around the country, the number of coronaviruses cases is on the rise, with an increasing number of people getting tested, at walk-in clinics to drive-through sites or visits with their doctors.
Here are some of the experiences and bits of advice from five people who have been able to get tested. The situation is constantly changing, and each case was unique. What one patient experienced in Washington might not be the same as in Alaska or what you may experience if you need to get tested.
Where to Get Tested
Tests are being given in a variety of locations. Those who spoke with The Times said their first call was to their primary care physician. Others browsed their state and local health websites for information on what to do. Some were able to visit drive-through test sites, which required a letter from a primary care physician.
In Everett, Wash., Vasheti Quiros, who is 45 and the executive director of a nonprofit, turned to her county’s health department website. Her search led her to a local walk-in clinic offering the tests. She was able to schedule next-day appointments online for her and her husband without needing any sort of referral from her primary care physician. The spaces, however, filled up fast. When they made the first booking, there were about 10 open spaces, but a few minutes later, when they went to make the second, there were only three slots left.
Alan Edwards, a 23-year-old financial analyst in St. Paul, Minn., made several visits to a nearby urgent care office. The staff there instructed him to return if his fever worsened or if he developed respiratory symptoms. After developing a cough and tightness in his chest one Saturday, he went to the emergency room, because the urgent care center was closed.
Experiences varied. Some people were able to walk right into the waiting room, while others were told not to enter the premises without a health care worker in protective gear coming to retrieve them. One visit took just 10 minutes, but none took longer than about an hour. All patients had to review their symptoms several times with receptionists, nurses or doctors.
When Mrs. Quiros and her husband arrived at the walk-in clinic, they were met by a nurse who handed them masks and forms that asked three questions: whether they had had a fever over 100.4 in the last four days; if they had had a new rash, cough or cold-like symptoms that included runny, stuffy nose, sore throat or difficulty breathing in the last four days; and if they had been in close contact or traveled outside of the United States or Canada in the last 30 days or been exposed to someone with Covid-19. After checking in with a receptionist and making their co-payments ($30 for Mrs. Quiros and $50 for her husband), they were asked to return to their car to wait until an exam room was ready.
Rachel, who asked to be identified only by her first name, underwent a drive-through exam in Alaska. She had been told she first needed a referral from her primary care physician, but wasn’t told where to send it or what it needed to say. After trying her “darnedest” but failing to get ahold of her doctor, she went to the drive-through site. The process was straightforward, she said, and took only about 10 minutes.
“If you get out of your car, they will send you home,” she wrote in a Facebook message.
Almost all of those who spoke with The Times said that they were first given a rapid flu test, whose results come back within 15 minutes or so. When those came back negative, the medical team proceeded to administer a Covid-19 test. (Though Mr. Edwards asked for a flu test, he was told the hospital had shut down flu testing to increase its capacity for Covid-19 tests.)
If you’ve seen the test (there are plenty of Instagram videos), then you know it looks as if someone is poking your brain: A swab is inserted deep in through your nostrils. According to Maureen Ferran, a molecular biologist and associate professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the test is meant to reach the cells from where your nose and throat meet.
The test itself is quick — only a few seconds — but most describe the sensation as highly uncomfortable.
“It’s kind of like breathing in water through your nose,” said Wesley Schrock, 29. Mr. Schrock, a campaign manager at the Human Rights Campaign who lives in Washington, D.C., said the procedure was performed on his left nostril.
In Dallas, Kelly, who agreed to talk so long as only her first name was used, had swabs taken from both nostrils. Her eyes teared up. “The doctor asked me if I was crying,” the 35-year-old said.
In Mrs. Quiros’s case, the doctors tested only her. Though her husband was showing more symptoms, she had registered a 100.9 fever when the doctors took her temperature. If her test came back positive, they told her, then the chances her husband also had Covid-19 were “very high.”
Tests results would be available from 24 hours onward, patients were told, depending on the location. Some might take as long as seven days. Advice from doctors included rest, hydration and isolation. All would be called with the results.
Once You’ve Been Tested
After getting tested, reach out to those with whom you’ve been in contact to let them know you’ve taken the test. It is not an alarmist move: Doing so ensures that others take extra layers of precautions with which the country aims to flatten the curve for new cases.
Mr. Schrock lives with five roommates. He sent them a group text and also alerted his employer. He also cleaned every doorknob and light switch he could. “Anything that was a shared space that is touched a lot,” he said.
Kelly notified her employer, as well as those co-workers she had been in meetings with recently. She also took the precaution of sleeping in a separate room from her boyfriend, and wore a mask whenever she left her bedroom.
The hard part, some say, is keeping your mind busy while you wait. “Lots of FaceTime calls,” Kelly said.
As for waiting for her Covid-19 results, Mrs. Quiros said she was grateful that she lives in a “beautiful state with a beautiful yard.” She and her husband also have an Australian-shepherd mix named Luna.
“She is a lover, and she has been quite the companion for us through lots of things,” Mrs. Quiros said.
The Test Results
In each instance, patients were told that they would be contacted when their tests came back.
In St. Paul, Mr. Edwards, who took his test on March 14, has yet to receive the results. The hospital called Wednesday to tell him it was overwhelmed by the number of tests that needed processing, he said. “They had no new timeline for when they’d know my results,” he wrote in a text message. Rachel, who took her test on Tuesday night, is also still waiting for results. She has been told she would receive them by Monday.
Kelly, as well as Mrs. Quiros, got their tests back a few days later. They both registered negative.
As for Mr. Schrock in Washington, his doctor called him on Tuesday, about five days after he got his test, to say that he had tested positive. That night, officials from the district’s health department called him, asking for information — name, age and numbers — for anyone he had come in contact with. The next day, officials went to his home and tested all of his roommates. They also went to his boyfriend’s home and tested him.
“They brought me a goody bag of gloves, masks and Purell, and an information booklet about the coronavirus,” Mr. Schrock said. He also had to download an app called SureAdhere Version 2 on his mobile phone, and create a video log detailing his symptoms, recording his temperature and showing it to the camera. His roommates have to do the same as well, and the information is reviewed by medical staff members within the health department.
In addition, various health officials called him daily. “I’ve gotten used to picking up random phone numbers in the past few days,” he said. They have also called him using Zoom video calls. They asked questions about the number of roommates he has, access to a bathroom, his roommates’ access to bathrooms, what the kitchen situation is and whether he has enough food.
The guidelines are changing daily: What’s advised today might not be the same tomorrow, he was told.
On Friday, a nurse practitioner from the health department called him with good news: He was no longer under quarantine. “I’m standing outside,” Mr. Schrock told me.
The updated guidelines said that because he had not registered a fever in three consecutive days, and because he was no longer showing the same symptoms he had initially, he was free. He should expect an official letter in his email. While he no longer has to log in to SureAdhere’s app, his roommates still do.
“Really lean on your circles,” Mr. Schrock said. “I think everyone, whether you’ve been diagnosed or not, everyone is experiencing this virus, and everybody’s lives has completely changed.”