Coronavirus testing – A personal history

On Monday, Rachel was feeling a little off – she had a (non-COVID) illness, which included feeling more fatigued than usual (don’t worry she’s fine now).

But, because we’re part of the KCL Covid-19 Symptom study, Rachel recorded this in the app (on Tuesday), which simply asks whether you feel ‘physically normal’ or ‘not quite right’ before a series of follow-up questions.

Now, KCL want to refine their algorithm, some people who have related symptoms, but who they don’t necessarily think have COVID are being asked to get tests. They sent an email asking Rachel and any other app users in the household (me) to get tests on Wednesday evening, which we didn’t pick up till first thing Thursday morning.

So (Thursday) we went onto the government website and registered for a home testing kit (which is a bit of a faff – you need NHS number, NI number etc for everyone getting tested) – took maybe half an hour. You need to get the antigen test done within the first five days of having symptoms. After that it’s too late. On days 1 to 4, you can get tested at a site or at home, as long as you order the test by 3pm on day 4 – after that, you need to go to a test site. We were warned it may be quicker to visit a regional testing centre, but we don’t have a car, and our nearest walk-though centre would be a ten mile round trip (no public transport or taxis allowed). Imagine doing that with a viral infection often worse than the flu.

An hour later, we received an email reminding us to take our tests, despite them not having despatched them yet.

So we waited. By Thursday lunchtime, we had a confirmation email to tell us our tests had been dispatched.

Then we waited a bit more. By 9.48am, apparently our tests are out for delivery.

However, by Friday afternoon, still no test (although we did have another email reminding us to take them) – Rachel’s illness was all sorted, and if it had been COVID, it would have been getting late for testing.

Around 6pm (well after the last post for the day), Rachel got an email telling her the tests had been delivered. Which was news to us.

So Rachel called the helpline – who couldn’t help – and looked around the block. Apparently Amazon (who distribute the tests) had failed to print our flat number on the package – so it was sitting at number 1. We only discovered this because a neighbour had put up posters telling us where our parcel was. Top marks Amazon.

But at least we had our tests.

By this point, the last post to return the tests was long gone – and you don’t want them sitting in a post-box over-night, so we planned to do them this morning (Saturday). We would then need to put them in our nearest priority post-box (not just any post-box will do, and you can’t take public transport to get there – thankfully we had one just outside our flat), in time for the last post at midday.

Saturday morning rolls around.

At about 10:50, we realise they want you to do the test an hour before the last post (which is at midday). You’re also not supposed to take your test or post it on Sunday, so if we miss the post, we’d have to wait until Monday to do so.

OK, we can do this. Frantic, but doable (the instruction says reckon it will take 15-25 minutes all told).

We go on to the government website to register the tests (should have realised we needed to do that one sooner). We start filling in our details, which includes the order number (in the confirmation email from the government), and the royal mail barcode. The barcodes are slightly confusing, as there is a different barcode on the test equipment (swab vial, envelope etc), and the website isn’t very clear, but we eventually work out which one we need.

And the damn things won’t register.

We tried using the barcode scanner – it says they aren’t correct. We try typing them out. Same problem.

So we call the helpline again.

Now the helpline starts to register our tests for us (very nice lady – one imagines quite long-suffering). For which they need things like our ethnicity, our order numbers, various barcodes, NHS numbers and God knows what else.

Meanwhile I start the actual swab process for mine. Which is… unpleasant. Ten seconds of swabbing your tonsils while saying ahh to expose them and trying not to gag, and the same of rotating the swab an inch up your nose. I can still feel it 45 minutes later. I’d rather not find out how doing that feels when you are actually ill

Finally, all registered, Rachel does her swabbing too, we seal up our swab vials, biohazard envelopes and flatpack boxes, and I get them to the post-box by 11:30.

We just hope the postie hasn’t already been.

All that would have taken 6 days from when symptoms presented (though we had no reason to believe they were COVID symptoms), or three days from when we ordered the test.

After our test has been received by the lab (hopefully on Monday), we can expect results by text and email within 2-4 days. That takes us to Thursday/Friday. By that point, if we had thought we had COVID-19, we would almost have finished our two weeks of isolation. It is also doubtful our tests would have reached the lab in time to be effective, if we had been suspected of having COVID.

Then contract tracers would get to work, identifying people we might have met before we started isolating. Who by that point would have a two week head-start. All told, it doesn’t exactly fill me with optimism about our “world beating” test track and trace system.

2 thoughts on “Coronavirus testing – A personal history

  1. I had heard there were some ‘teething problems’, but this, if it is the ‘norm’ could do with some improvement (to put it mildly…)


  2. Well done for persevering. I’m on the KCL thing too and after the US-owned credit checker Transunion had failed to verify my address (despite HMRC having no trouble sending me tax returns and my paying council tax monthly) thereby losing half an hour’s work and after half an hour spent on phone to referred NHS number and someone who didn’t have a clue about the KCL study I gave up.


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