What is getting a COVID-19 test really like?

08 Jul 2020

What’s the COVID-19 test really like? Many of us have pondered this question during the pandemic and there are no shortage of opinions circulating through the news and in our social feeds on an almost daily basis.

As Tasmania moves through COVID-19 recovery, our efforts to remain COVID-19 free will be greatly improved by good testing numbers. Testing anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms increases the chance of detecting new cases quickly and will contain the spread.

It’s normal to feel apprehensive about getting a medical test but it’s important to know that there are lots of measures in place to help you quickly organise a test and that the test itself only takes a moment. If you are sick, getting a test is well worth it for the peace of mind and for the protection of the broader community.

We asked some of our fellow Tasmanians to share their testing experience with us to help lift the veil of mystery and provide an honest account of what to expect when you need to get a COVID-19 test. Read their responses below.

Daniel, south

“I got tested the first time after I returned from overseas travel, this was well before Tasmania had declared a State of Emergency. I had a cold while I was away and I didn’t think I had COVID-19, but wanted to get checked anyway.

“I also got tested again just a couple of weeks ago, because I had a mild cold, and had heard the message to get a test if I had any symptoms.

“In both cases I called the Tasmanian Public Health Hotline, who scheduled testing for me that same day. The first time I got tested by a pathology provider and the second time it was at a drive-thru clinic. I got there on my bike but it took some convincing of the Hotline to let me go through the drive-thru on the bike (they did offer patient transport). I might well have been the first person to ride a bicycle through the drive-thru, but it worked!

“The test itself is a swab to each nostril and a swab to the back of the throat. The nose swab can only be described as unpleasant but it is over quickly.”

Emma, north west

“I was working from home close to an outbreak and started to feel a little rundown, with the classic COVID-19 symptoms. I called the Tasmanian Public Health Hotline and got through very quickly. They asked all the necessary questions and I had my pick of appointments that day.

“I drove myself to a drive-thru testing clinic. There was quite a large queue which was great to see because people were taking stick of their health and the risks to the community. The line moved very quickly and efficiently.

“I had a swab of the back of my throat and then one in each nostril. The healthcare worker who took the swab was very informative regarding what the test involved and put my mind at ease. It is not the most comfortable thing I have ever had done but it is extremely quick and absolutely worth it for your peace of mind and for the sake of the community.”

Grace, south

“I had contact with a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 so needed to get tested because of this contact.”

“I organised the test by calling the COVID-19 public health hotline number. When you speak to the operator you answer questions about your symptoms and whether you have been in contact with a positive case or are a close contact. I was given a booking at the nearest drive-thru testing clinic.

“The hotline gave me a description of what to expect upon arrival and gave me the address details for the clinic. On arrival, a staff member approaches your car and asks your name. They also give you a mask to put on. Proceeding through the gate you see a tent and several healthcare workers wearing personal protective equipment.

“A healthcare worker approaches your window and greets you. They also check all your personal and contact details and explain the test. The test is quick and straight forward, you stay in your car during the test. The healthcare worker uses a swab and first they swab both sides of the back of your throat, then each nostril – the nostril swab is only slightly uncomfortable but the staff are very understanding.

“I felt the healthcare team did a great job. They were very professional empathetic and kind.”

Damien, South

“I had been sick for a few days and seemed to be getting worse so I ended up having to go to the hospital (it turned out I had a virus but not COVID-19). I was attended to by two healthcare workers at home who were wearing masks and gowns because I had reported having a fever and chest pain. After they checked me over they decided to take me to the hospital. It seemed unlikely it was COVID-19 but it was sensible that everyone took precautions.

“At the hospital the doctor and nurse who treated me were wearing masks and gowns and I was in a room by myself separate to other people. I didn’t have a cough or sore throat or any of the other classic COVID-19 symptoms and the doctor thought it was unlikely I had COVID but I got tested at the hospital, just to be sure.

“The test took less than a minute. They swabbed my throat with a long Q-tip and then my nostrils. When they do the nostril swab it makes you feel like sneezing and you probably will sneeze when they remove it, but, it doesn’t hurt at all. It feels odd for a second but it’s not painful and is really quick.

“It is definitely sensible to get tested for COVID-19 if you have any COVID-19 symptoms. It could make a big difference.”

You can find out more about when, where and how to get tested at: www.coronavirus.tas.gov.au/keeping-yourself-safe/testing-for-covid19

The Tasmanian Public Health Hotline can be contacted on: 1800 671 738.

*interviewees names have been changed to keep their personal accounts anonymous.