Prior to the pandemic, my husband, a former professional snowboarder, was contracted by China to be the head coach of a snowboard team with sights set on the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. His frequent trips to the former capital, Nanjing, a six-hour drive from Wuhan, raised serious concerns when news of Covid-19 spread.

Could the brutal endless flu this winter have been an infection? My husband worked three-week stints in Nanjing and would return for one or two. Most of his time at home he was bedridden with fevers, cough and was very weak, but would recover in time for his next trip. I never fell ill and showed little to no symptoms, experiencing unusual fatigue going up my stairs and severe lower back and hip pain, which is said to be a symptom of the virus. 

Before lockdown orders, there were telltale signs of unease, the biggest indicator: shortages of PPE. My father, who works for OSHA, had urgently advised me to source PPE for our household. When I mentioned to him that ARAMSCO, one of the nation’s biggest suppliers of PPE, was out of N95 masks his response was, “That’s not possible.” After calling around he texted me back, “This is not good.” Like many Topangans and millions of others across the country, we began our self quarantine.

Last month I overheard at the General Store, “I am a doctor and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” He mentioned a nasal swab test and it sparked my curiosity. I asked some of my own friends who travel for work regularly if they had been tested. 

Wary of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) protections, I decided to participate in the study myself. A friend from New York recommended Project Baseline by Verily, and after a short questionnaire online, I had a drive-through test scheduled for the next day. 

It was after I shared the experience via social media that the replies came flooding in. Dozens wanted to know how to get tested. Two in a network of +800 had tested already. I wanted to get more people curious about the science and participate in what could arguably be one of the most significant things we could do besides observing SAH (sanitation and hygiene) guidelines. More than 100,000 Americans have passed from this insidious virus. The most harrowing part to reconcile is that they go alone, without family at their side. If testing is integral to a pathway to a vaccine, then it is a patriotic act. 

Few know what epidemiologists do and why their guidelines are so critical. SOHCO, a term from the CDC’s Field Epidemiology Manual that stands for “Single Overriding Health Communication Objective,” is to be repeated at the beginning and end of any communication with the public. The language has graduated from “Wash Your Hands”, “Stay At Home”, to “Testing, Testing, Testing”. The consensus among epidemiologists is testing continuously on a mass scale, will provide data on the scale of infection (studies suggest 40 percent of carriers are asymptomatic) the efficacy of antibodies protecting citizens and for how long. 

I hope this piece can offer you a little more insight on cover testing and encourage you to participate in making the science more robust.

My Project Baseline by Verily COVID-19 exam took less than 5 minutes to sign up for on my iPhone. I received email confirmation immediately and was asked to bring my drivers license, advised to have no more than one other person in the car, and instructed to hold that email confirmation up to the window to show personnel upon arrival. 

Saori Wall receives her test swab at the drive through testing center. Photo by Eddie Wall

I waited 15 minutes in my car, in a JOANN’S parking lot in the valley. Some lab technicians wore full PPE, depending on their role, others just wore gloves, goggles and mask. The nasal swab was inserted by the technician collecting my sample and the test was over in 15 seconds. 

My husband was not eligible to receive a test from Verily after applying and answering the same questionnaire, so he Googled “LA COUNTY DRIVE THRU COVID-19.” It brought up a map of the surrounding area. From there he selected a testing site in Canoga Park. Much more formal than my experience, everyone was in head-to-toe PPE and LAFD was present to direct vehicles. Upon arrival they provided a smart phone barcode prompting a video detailing step by step instructions on how to capture the sample himself. 

Eddie Wall prepares his Covid-19 test sample. Photo by Saori Wall

After swabbing his mouth, gums, tongue he placed the swab in a vial with fluid, sealed it and personnel retrieved it from the partially rolled down window, using a reaching claw. It was immediately placed straight into a collection receptacle. From beginning to end, it took less than 15 minutes. Within a margin of 2-5 days we received our negative results via email.

Both tests detailed that if results are positive, you receive a phone call. We both plan to seek antibodies testing eligibility.

Every day more news trickles in from medical data sourced nationwide. As tests become more readily available, many experts ask why aren’t more people getting tested? A recent report details that tens of thousands of tests are going unused in California, daily. California seeks 60-80k tests a day to fully reopen. Go out there and get tested, Topangans.