Coronavirus: I just had my COVID-19 test — here’s how it went

The COVID-19 assessment centre at Michael Garron Hospital. Melanie Zettler / Global

Editor’s note: This first-person account reflects the experience of one individual and is not intended as medical advice. 

Update: Melanie received a call informing her that she tested negative for COVID-19. This story has been updated to reflect that.

I don’t get easily freaked out. I’ve had several traumatic health-related episodes in my lifetime, but I’m a healthy person and I think I maintain a level, calm head about things. After all, I’ve worked in a newsroom for more than 20 years and you do need a thick skin most days.

I’m not overly concerned about COVID-19, but after two Global News colleagues tested positive for the virus in the last week (one of whom, I had several 15-minute-long meetings with) and after I began to experience a sore throat and runny nose, Toronto Public Health advised I get tested.

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I received the self-isolation email notice from Toronto Public Health on Sunday, but I had not left my house since Saturday. So Tuesday was my first outing and the destination was Michael Garron Hospital’s COVID-19 assessment centre located in East York.

I phoned the assessment centre on Monday and the soonest they could give me an appointment was Tuesday at 2:45 p.m., which seemed reasonable in my mind.

I arrived on time and was greeted by a hospital security guard, outfitted in a face mask with plastic shield, gloves and a hospital gown overtop his security vest. He was sweating and visibly uncomfortable. He instructed me to take a face mask from the box sitting on top of the vestibule wall heater.

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“With my bare hands?” I said as he pointed to the hand sanitizer, which I used before I pinched a face mask from the box.

My cool demeanor was replaced with increasing anxiety the moment I entered the main waiting area. My eyes scanned the room and found the box of gloves I was looking for.

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I don’t care how well adjusted you are — it’s unnerving to be in a room with obviously sick people, all wearing masks and gloves. If I didn’t already have COVID-19, would I get it here?

Nobody wanted to touch anything or sit down, so it was reassuring to see a staff member whose only job was to constantly wipe down surfaces, chairs, door handles and ledges with disinfection wipes.

Six of us were waiting to be tested and it was far less than what Monday offered, a woman I made polite conversation with told me. She told me she walked in and walked out on Monday because her anxiety couldn’t handle the volume of people at the time of her initial appointment.

When your name is called, you speak to the first of two intake workers who sit at computers behind the separation glass. The first person takes your health card and basic information, including your symptoms and recent travel history. The second person verifies that information while a nurse takes your vitals (blood pressure and temperature). It took well over 40 minutes for me to get to this point.

Melanie Zettler attends the COVID-19 assessment centre at Michael Garron Hospital. Handout

Then there is more waiting before you enter the test rooms behind the double glass doors. While I wait, I watch the nurse carefully use disinfection wipes to clean the blood pressure pad, ear thermometer device and all of the electric cords attached. This is what I want to see.

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It’s now approximately 4 p.m. and my private test room is available. After another 10 minutes, a doctor enters and again discusses the information I’ve provided while making more notes. He explained the nasal swab will be “unpleasant,” but quick if I don’t move.

After another five minutes, a nurse enters with what looks like an extra-long, five-inch “Q-tip”-like swab she pulls out of a sealed package. Then, I’m asked to lift my head up and in it goes. It’s definitely not fun or comfortable, but fast.

Once the sample was taken, the swab was put into a sterile container holding a few millimetres of a fluid which helps to pull the cells off the swab. The plastic tube was sealed and sent off for testing.

I received a phone call from Michael Garron Hospital on Friday telling me I tested negative for Covid-19.  The person went on to say that I would have to remain in self isolation for another 48 hours.

Then I got a call from Toronto Public Health telling me this information was incorrect and that I needed to stay home as well as continuing to keep a safe distance from my family —- for the rest of the 14 day period. This is because I’m still considered to be in the “incubation period.”

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According to the World Health Organization, “incubation period” means the time between catching the virus and beginning to have symptoms of the disease. Most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from one to 14 days, most commonly around five days. These estimates will be updated as more data become available.

Click to play video: 'Some who attend Ontario COVID-19 assessment centres report being turned away without test'
Some who attend Ontario COVID-19 assessment centres report being turned away without test

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