I had an asymptomatic Covid test
I had two, actually (and both came back negative). I thought it might be worth recording the experience, if only for posterity.
The Plague marches on. A few weeks ago, my university sent an email round to all the students who were currently in town (whether they'd stayed over the winter holiday break or had returned to town having spent the holiday elsewhere) to ask them to take an asymptomatic Covid test if they hadn't already had one recently.
Students who were travelling (both before leaving town for the winter holiday and upon their return) were encouraged to take a test before leaving and after arriving in town; I've forgotten what the exact details of those arragements were, mostly because I didn't really have any travel plans (none which survived the apparent new strain of Covid in the UK, anyhow), and have been largely staying put for the past few months.
However, up until that point I'd never been tested for Covid at all (and to my knowledge I've thus far avoided contracting it), so I decided I'd take the offer of a test, as it wouldn't cost me anything, and I was curious what the procedure was like. (For bonus points, it would get me out of my flat and doing some exercise, instead of staring into the electronic demon rectangles for the whole day.)
The university has set up a testing centre in the sports hall, where they administer lateral-flow tests, which give results within about an hour. (This is distinct from the NHS-operated testing centre, which is in the town proper, and which administers PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, which have to go off to a lab for analysis.)
Tests are booked via one of the university's various online portals. You have to take two tests, with three to five days between each test. In my case, I booked the first on Monday afternoon, and the second on Thursday morning last week. When I booked, there was a lead time of a week for bookable slots.
The confirmation emails explicitly noted that I needed a mobile device with internet connectivity in order to register for the test when I arrived at the test centre.
When I turned up at the test centre, the staff on the door asked me if I had a test booked (which I did), and confirmed that I was not quarantining (I was not) and that I was not otherwise displaying any Covid symptoms (I was not).
Inside the testing centre, I sanitised my hands, and was then directed to a registration desk. There, I received a little registration card, which has a URL and QR code for the UK government's online test registration's portal, and a strip of four (identical) barcode stickers, which were scanned at the registration desk. I was then told to affix one of the barcodes to the registration card; the other three are used by the staff for identifying and processing tests later on.
Then, I was directed to a marked-off waiting area, to complete the online test registration form. This includes the following information:
- Whether I'm registering a test for myself or someone else (myself in this case).
- Whether I wanted to create an account or to proceed without (I chose without — I don't have access to my password manager on my phone, and it just means you have to enter the same data again the next time you register a test).
- The test kit barcode. The mobile site has functionality for scanning the barcode in the browser, which is certainly more convenient than manually typing in an eleven-character identifier twice on a phone keyboard.
- The test site's ID, which is three or four characters. This was displayed prominently on posters on the walls of the test center.
- Whether you're taking part in daily contact tracing (I was not).
- The date and time of the test (rounded to the nearest hour).
- Your name, date of birth, first line of address, and postcode.
- Gender, ethnicity, and other demographic information (not all of which is mandatory to provide).
- Whether you've travelled overseas in the past two weeks.
- Whether you've been vaccinated against Covid.
- Contact details for sending test results. A mobile phone number is mandatory; an email address and landline phone number are optional, though I didn't explore what the options for the latter are.
- Your NHS number, if you have it to hand.
After I completed the registration process, I was then directed to a waiting line for the area where tests are handled. This area is divided into a public and non-public half, with a series of sectioned-off booths on the public-facing side of the division, in which one self-adminsters the test procedure.
I was directed to a booth when one became available. These booths have a mirror on one wall, with a poster detailing how to administer the test. The wall facing the non-public section of the space has a window and a little hole for items to be passed to and from the non-public space. When I arrived at the booth, there was a member of staff on the opposite side to talk me through the test procedure.
First, I gave the remaining three bar code stickers to the member of staff, and was then directed to remove my face covering, blow my nose, and sanitise my hands. The testing process involves swabbing the tonsils and nose, so I was told to use the mirror to get a look at my tonsils beforehand (I don't know how this works for people who have had their tonsils removed). I used my phone's torch to help with this, which is apparently what a lot of people do. I was then provided with a swab, with which to poke at my mouth and nose.
Swabbing the tonsils will definitely trigger your gag reflex, if you have one — at one of my two tests, that was explicitly stated to me as how I would know that I was poking the right bit of my mouth. The swab also musn't touch other parts of the mouth like the tongue or teeth, otherwise you have to start over. I had a slight coordination failure when I took my second test, and the swab brushed past my lips, so I had to get a fresh one and start again.
I'd also been having intermittent nosebleeds last week (thankfully only on one side), so I also made sure to swab the nostril which hadn't been bleeding.
After that, I deposited the swab into a test tube offered by the supervising member of staff, masked up, and then sanitised my hands again on the way out.
As advertised, I received an SMS about an hour after I was at the test centre, confirming the results of my tests, which were thankfully negative. I also received emails (when my phone's mail client decided to get its act together), with the same information.