The saga starts simply: On Feb. 17, 2021, Annie suffered tummy upset all day, along with loss of energy. By late afternoon, my wife had developed a fever of 37.8 degrees Celsius (100.1 Fahrenheit). Morning of the 18th, her body temperature had fallen to 37.2 C (99 F) before returning to normal and staying that way. But she felt crummy and lethargic. More worrisome: Low-grade fever is one of the signature symptoms of COVID-19—the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2).
Next day, the 19th, I felt off and started coughing; often. If not for Annie’s fever the story would end there, but the symptom shouldn’t be ignored. I checked our health insurer’s website, which indicated that COVID-19 testing would be free with a referral. Around 8 a.m., when the doctor’s office opened, I cancelled a 9 a.m. self-defense lesson with my trainer and called our physician, with whom the scheduler set up an 11 a.m. phone appointment. Who would guess problems would start there.
Annie took the call and explained her symptoms. The primary care doc recommended three testing sites within short driving distance. But, uh-oh: Rather than give a referral, she consulted San Diego County’s website list of free-test locations—something we could have done as easily. The nearest place caused me to chuckle: The Mexican Consulate, where I wanted to go for the sheer novelty. Unfortunately, the site was closed on Fridays. Damn.
Our next choice proved Annie right. Google Maps Street View showed an apartment building at the address. Surely that couldn’t be right, and I insisted that we drive there anyway. Yep, we arrived to find exactly what she expected—and no sign of testing anywhere. We were zero for two from the doctor’s list. The County website led us to another address just a few minutes away. We followed directions to 55th Street on the San Diego State University Campus and a COVID-19 test site without public parking; students could walk up.
Giving up, and heading home, Annie missed the highway entrance and used the mishap as opportunity to go by a back way, where we passed surprising signs for COVID-19 testing that promised results in 15 minutes. The place turned out to be a sidewalk tent with a lone technician inside. Cost: $130. No thanks. We weren’t that desperate.
Since our route had gone wayward, and I knew of a drive-up site nearby UCSD Hospital, we set off for there instead of continuing home. That’s where I used Leica Q2 Monochrom to capture the Featured Image; this morning. Vitals, aperture manually set: f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/8000 sec, 28mm; 11:25 a.m. PST. But two days ago, we reached a location that was appointment-only. Annie turned the car towards our apartment.
I asked my wife to let me out a few kilometers from our flat, so that I could walk off the tension. She continued home, once there took a breather, and then started researching the last location on our list. Later, she met me and explained that the site was closer than we thought and was nearby the animal shelter. “Okay, let’s go!” I commanded. She wanted to wait until the next day. But I convinced her to seize the moment, and we did.
Ten minutes later, we arrived at the Linda Vista Test Site at University of San Diego, where there was plenty of parking and well-organized operation. The process started by using our smartphones to scan a QR code, which launched a webpage asking for information necessary to make an appointment—all this occurred while we proceeded through a quickly-moving, socially-distanced line. My email confirmation came before I reached the check-in station (2:54 p.m.). Annie’s confirmation did not, and we assumed that the email service she used suffered delays. Puzzled, the check-in tech verified the address and wrote down Annie’s appointment number on a card and handed it to her.
We collected two small test tubes, each with bar code and birthdate, and proceeded to testing, where I learned why people who snort cocaine have irritable, runny noses. We were each given what I would describe as a Q-Tip on-a-stick to be inserted in the right nostril until there was resistance, pulled back slightly, then rotated three times against the membranes. The experience was awful, but worse when repeated in the left nostril. My nose itched and discharged liquid for hours afterwards. Meanwhile, I pulled up my mask, which heavy sneezing spoiled—all while handing the swab stick back to the test tech for insertion, cotton-side down, into the tube.
We were told to expect results within two to four days via email, with a link to a secure webpage. Problem: Arriving home, Annie still hadn’t received her confirmation but we still had the information captured in a web browser. Looking this over, she saw the typo. Finally. Dot-Con instead of Dot-Com. How could she get her results? Mulling over that question, I looked for the source of error: Her contact card on the phone, which Safari used to autofill her otherwise correct email except for that damn Dot-Con. I fixed it.
DNA Data Miners
Yesterday morning, I awoke to find a 3:42 a.m. email notifying that my COVID-19 pronouncement was ready—turnaround in about 12 hours; impressive. I clicked “View Your Results”, proceeded to a webpage, and continued through a security protocol that included receiving and verifying another message. Drum roll. Negative!
But what about Annie? The County staffs a help line, and I rang for assistance. The friendly agent explained that since Helix administered the test, we needed to contact the company’s offices instead. Helix? Oh my fraking freak out, not Helix. The company that claims “it’s our mission to empower every person to improve their life through DNA” sells several DNA test kits and is deeply involved in genome research.
Few years ago, I chose to throw away, rather than use, a Helix DNA kit received as a gift. Who knows where such information goes? Supposedly, with SARS-CoV-2, Helix is only looking at Coronavirus RNA, but I am too cynical a journalist to trust that. COVID-19 testing is an enormous DNA data-mining opportunity that Helix, or San Diego County, would throw away? I have evidence of nothing nefarious, and I don’t pander conspiracy theories. However, suspicion is my profession, and had I understood Helix’s role I would not have taken the test.
Back to Annie, my contacting Helix got the results. The process required her confirmation and phone numbers, birth date, and the incorrectly-provided email address. Another negative!
Are we relieved? I guess. If we ever get tested again, though, Mexican Consulate will be the place.