After about two weeks of covering the city’s Black Lives Matter protests back in early June, I decided to get tested for COVID-19.
At the time, case counts were trending up but weren’t particularly high (there were 71 active cases in Northeast Tennessee when I got tested). Still, I had been around a lot of people and spoken to many, and though many people wore masks and we were outside, I felt it was prudent to go get tested anyway. I waited in line for maybe five minutes, had my nose swabbed and got my results back two days later.
On Aug. 11, about two weeks after I had returned from a socially distanced vacation out of state, I decided to get tested again. For the most part, I didn’t have any symptoms of COVID-19 after I returned — no cough, no shortness of breath (well, no more than a mild asthmatic normally has), no loss of taste or smell and no fever. I did sneeze a few times though, and while sneezing isn’t a traditional symptom of COVID-19, again I figured I’d get tested and knock out two birds with one stone by getting a test and testing the process.
A lot has changed since my first test, however.
From June 8 to Aug. 11 (when I got tested again), active cases in Northeast Tennessee increased by 3,726.76%, while total cases jumped from 329 to 4,397. In Washington County, active cases increased by more than 7,500% — from 12 to 913. As the number of infections increased across the region, state and country, the testing system was strained, with some people waiting in line for hours to get tested only to then wait weeks to get their results back. Naturally, I wanted to put the testing system to the, well, test.
When I arrived at the Washington County Health Department shortly before 10 a.m. on Aug. 11, I immediately noticed the first difference: Cars. When I got my first test, I was behind just one other car but this time, I was behind about two dozen cars which caused the wait to go from about five minutes to around 40 minutes. Once I got to the first tent to fill out paperwork, things were mostly the same.
After about two minutes of answering questions, I was headed to get my test. Before I left, however, I was handed an information and instruction packet saying how to get my results, what to do after my test, what to do if I’m exposed to COVID-19 and what to do if I test positive. At the actual testing area, the process was mostly the same — a cotton swab goes into both nostrils for a few seconds, and you leave with watery eyes.
Next, I waited.
Of course, I read (and wrote) about the testing delays being experienced throughout the country, heard Ballad Health officials speak about their sometimes week-long delays in getting results back, and expected to experience the same. In fact, I got my test results faster than I did the first time.
For my first test, a member of the health department called me to tell me I tested negative. One of the biggest changes for my most recent test was the ending of that practice. Now, results are delivered online or by text (if you sign up for them through the portal), which could explain the quicker turnaround. After getting tested around 10:30 a.m. that morning, I received an email with my results at 2:35 p.m. the next day.
It was a fairly quick and easy process that, despite the rise in cases and increased wait times, wasn’t all that different from my the test I got almost two months prior. As I wrote back in June, “it was a quick and easy process that gives you peace-of-mind and could help prevent the spread of COVID-19 if you test positive and can self-isolate quickly to avoid spreading it.”
With more cases in our region and community than ever before, it’s critical you get tested if you develop symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with somebody who has tested positive. It’s also important to remember that a negative test does not necessarily mean you are in the clear. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “a negative test result only means that you did not have COVID-19 at the time of testing or that your sample was collected too early in your infection.”
The information packet given to you by the health department says you should still quarantine — even if you tested negative — for two weeks if you live with, care for or spent time around somebody who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. If you haven’t had contact with anyone with COVID-19 and aren’t sick, the health department says to continue following public health guidance and monitor yourself for symptoms.
When in doubt, get a test.