From tears to tests: Finding out if I have the coronavirus
San José Spotlight reporter Katie Lauer gets tested for the coronavirus at PAL Stadium in East San Jose Friday. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Anxious tears accompanied my calls to clinics across Minneapolis on March 13. I sat alone in a friend’s apartment, where I spent the morning on hold trying to find a test for the coronavirus before going home to see my family.

Did you recently travel overseas? No.
Do you know anyone who’s tested positive? No.
Are you feeling any of the symptoms, including a fever? No, I said, resisting the temptation to lie.

The denial of the virus’ presence in the United States, in addition to a lack of mass testing, concrete answers or a comprehensive and timely national plan, helped lead to the spread of the novel coronavirus across the country.

In Santa Clara County, there were 2,546 confirmed cases and 138 deaths as of Saturday, while across California those numbers tallied 88,444 positive cases and 3,630 deaths. Nationally, nearly 100,000 Americans have died.

The CDC has estimated that 35 percent of coronavirus patients don’t display symptoms.

So, when the city of San Jose and Santa Clara County announced that testing would be free for anyone who wants a test – regardless of health insurance, ability to pay or symptoms – I signed up. As a reporter for San José Spotlight, I’m an essential worker and I’ve been on the frontlines – like many other journalists across the country – to bring our readers the latest information on the fast-moving virus, while wearing a mask and following social distancing rules.

The testing site at the Police Activities League Stadium in East San Jose — where I got tested — is funded by a partnership between Alphabet subsidiary Verily and the state. It has a capacity of 300 tests per day, though officials hope to reach the region’s lofty goal of 4,000 tests a day.

The experience of requesting a free COVID-19 test in Santa Clara County was quick and convenient. I filled out an application through Verily’s website Wednesday and signed up online for an appointment Friday morning. I sat in my car, similar to waiting at a drive-thru window, as masked officials talked me through self-administering a nearly six-inch swab into both of my nasal cavities and twisting it 10 times. I was asked to keep my windows rolled up, except when officials used a metal grabber arm to hand me the swab and testing vial.

The test was uncomfortable – fighting the slight invasiveness and urge to sneeze – but it wasn’t painful.

I think the comfort I’ll get from knowing my coronavirus status – in the next two to five days – will outweigh the discomfort of stabbing my nose in my car.

I personally thought the testing process from start to finish was easy enough, despite reports that appointment times are glitching and inequities in access still persist for those without smartphones, internet access and a permanent address.

But the steps are in place to start getting more residents tested, especially by removing financial and health barriers.

Two months ago and 2,000 miles east in Minnesota, that wasn’t the case. I couldn’t get a test, despite calling Santa Clara County home, which had one of the first COVID-19 clusters in the United States – including the first deaths nationally – and I had recently flown out of San Jose’s Mineta International Airport, where three employees had tested positive.

Heading home to see my family, including my at-risk parents, I wanted to be sure I wouldn’t bring along anything that could hurt them – aside from my fridge-clearing appetite.

That wasn’t a possibility, the stereotypically “Minnesota Nice” hotline nurses assured me, and I had no reason to worry. But I did worry: What if I actually have it without symptoms? Was I spreading it unknowingly? Should I have canceled the trip, despite the full flight?

Getting my test results back from Verily won’t answer any of those questions from the past, but I’ll feel more at ease knowing that if I test positive now, I can make changes to my daily choices moving forward — without any anxious tears.

Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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