As Philadelphia tentatively moves to the yellow phase of reopening, I sought out a COVID-19 test - Philly


Jun. 4, 2020 4:16 pm

As Philadelphia tentatively moves to the yellow phase of reopening, I sought out a COVID-19 test

I needed the internet, a cell phone and a car to get it done — in other words, access to resources.
The COVID-19 test kit.

The COVID-19 test kit.

(Photo by Paige Gross)

A few days after I protested with a few hundred other Philadelphians and a few days before the county was slated to move into the “yellow” phase of reopening, I decided to look into getting tested for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

I’m heeding the words of Philadelphia Public Health Department’s Dr. Tom Farley, who again Thursday echoed city officials across the country in telling protestors it’s probably a good idea to get tested after being in a large crowd. And while “aggressive social mitigation” efforts are still required during this yellow phase, according to the state, they do allow for small gatherings (although the City is advising against gatherings at all during this phase).

In Lancaster County, where my family lives, there are fewer cases of the virus than Philadelphia — where more than 23,000 people have tested positive — and a lot more room to spread out. I’ve been invited to my cousin’s daughter’s second birthday party next week, which is allowed in the yellow phase because it will be a gathering of about 10 people and will be outside. We plan to wear masks and keep our distance. But … should I go?


I’m not too worried about my own safety — I’m a generally healthy person in my 20s. But my age could make me a higher contender to be an asymptomatic carrier. Could I be risking getting my parents or an aunt or uncle sick?

Myself and other Philadelphians and residents of surrounding counties are going to face difficult decisions like these in the coming weeks, as we balance the process of reopening businesses and our social lives with the inherent risk that someone carrying the virus asymptomatically might attend a gathering.

So, six days after I’d been in a crowd protesting, I decided to seek out a test to see how easy the process really was.

I was able to get scheduled for a test in about 24 hours. I sought out a testing center that had lots of open appointments and took insurance, with the intention to not take away from resources others might need more than me.

I believe that getting this appointment and being able to attend were easy enough because of the resources I have. I have a car, insurance, access to the internet and a mobile device. While folks without insurance can get tested at one of the city centers (and at other locations, like the drive-through CVS that I went to), some testing sites were shut down over the last few days because of demonstrations.

(Find a list of COVID-19 testing sites on the City of Philadelphia’s website.)

The technical aspect of scheduling required I have internet access to find a testing site, to apply for an appointment and to have a mobile device with me during my appointment. I’m privileged to have access to those resources (and the ability to get a test during work hours), and wonder how far behind in testing we are for people who don’t.

The night before my appointment, a healthcare worker at CVS called my cell phone asking for more information and verifying what I’d already included in my application.

The morning of, I arrived to the CVS a few minutes before my scheduled appointment, and went straight for the drive-thru, where tests were being administered. I sat for about 15 minutes while two people in two cars ahead of me did their self-administered tests. When it was my turn, I drove up the window — masked, as required — and listened to instructions from the healthcare worker about how to do it.

Waiting to get tested for COVID-19. (Photo by Paige Gross)

She explained I’d take the nasal swab out of its sterile packaging, insert into each nostril and swipe around, then hold in each for 15 seconds. She warned it might make me cough or sneeze, but I needed to keep it inserted long enough to gather the sample.

Although I’d watched a video, and just listened to instructions, I was still a little nervous, sitting in the driver seat of my car, unpacking medical equipment onto my lap. And the technician was right — self-administering is uncomfortable. I coughed and sneezed a few times throughout and the pressure brought tears to my eyes. But I’m glad I was able to perform a test that limited my interaction with other people.

When I’d dropped the swab into the provided test tube that the lab would use to test the sample, I placed that back in the original plastic bag and wiped down the collection box with two Clorox wipes she provided me.

COVID-19 test collection box at CVS. (Photo by Paige Gross)

Then, came more technical instructions. I’d been sent an email to set up an online portal to receive my test results in the next two to four days. When I got home from my test, I logged on to check out the dashboard.

The CVS drive-through site I went to and some of the city-run test sites do not require insurance, money or proof of citizenship. But many sites do require a referral from another doctor, that you meet certain criteria for testing, that you’re in-network with that healthcare center or that you have an appointment.

Getting an appointment was doable for me, but it wasn’t what I would call easy. And it has clear barriers to entry for people without easy access to internet or a car.

As Philadelphia and surrounding counties begin opening up in the next few days, I suspect we’ll see an increase in wanting access to tests, but I’m unsure that the need will be met. And I don’t think we’ll have a safe path to reopening without broad, equitable testing.

A lot will happen over the next few days. The City will decide how this yellow phase will work here, our networks will likely expand and we’ll get a glimpse of what operating in this “new normal” will look like for us.

And, oh yeah — thanks to the efforts of hard working scientists and healthcare workers, me and hundreds of other Philadelphians will get our test results back.


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