The Way We Live Now #19: Covid Test

This is not the swab you are looking for.

A couple of Sundays ago I got a call from a friend. She left a voicemail, didn’t say what it was about, didn’t leave a text. We spent about 20 minutes playing voicemail tag before she reached me, to tell me her brother was in the hospital with Covid.

She wasn’t just telling me because I’d want to know. Fifteen days earlier, Spouse and I had gone to their house for dinner. Another friend was down visiting them, and they invited yet another person we hadn’t seen in years. Everyone was fully vaccinated.

Fifteen days was one day outside of the recommended window for testing, and I’d had no symptoms. In that time period, in Mendocino, I’d had dinner with Donna and Mark, and invited them up to my suite for a cocktail party, maskless, because we were all fully vaccinated. And, once I got home, I’d had lunch at the Cape Fear Cafe in Duncan’s Mills. My server was masked the whole time, but I wasn’t.

What if I were a carrier, and I’d infected them with the Delta variant?

I checked the CVS website to find that the local branch didn’t do tests. I called Rite Aid. The Stony Point store did tests; Sebastopol did not. I emailed my doctor, and got on the Sonoma County Emergency site. After a few minutes, I located a test site in Coddingtown, run by Curative, which had appointments left for Monday, the next day.

To sign up, I answered a bunch of the usual screening questions, including a few that I hadn’t answered before because I’d never been tested: was the test needed for travel? Did I work in the healthcare field? The rest were familiar; any symptoms, any exposure within the last 14 days, etc.

Curative then emailed me a link that took me to page to actually sign up, where I had to repeat some demographic data (name, age, phone number, email) and add my health insurance info even though there is no cost for the test. I got my appointment and the location: Coddingtown Center, the Target parking lot, the mall kiosk. You don’t get an appointment, you get a slot, and mine was 11:00-11:30 am.

I got there early, in case I had trouble finding the kiosk and because I almost always arrive early when I’m anxious. I parked in the target parking lot, which basically takes up about half of the space of Coddingtown’s southern parking lot.

And, immediately, I couldn’t find the kiosk.

I looked for an umbrella, or a tent. There wasn’t one. I walked up and down the rows, and couldn’t see anything that resembled a kiosk, so I approached to the sidewalk, walked west to the corner and east to the edge of Macy’s. No kiosk in sight.

It occurred to me that “mall kiosk” might, in fact, mean exactly that: a kiosk in the mall. So I trudged through Target and out into the concourse, which was surprisingly empty of kiosks of any sort (or customers, while we’re on the subject). I pulled out my phone entered the address into my GPS, thinking it might be in front of one of the small offices at the south end of the parking lot.

My GPS helpfully informed me that I Had Reached My Destination.

Last resort: I called the Curative number given in my confirming email, and went through the menu. I was told there 12 calls ahead of me. A little desperate, I hurried back through Target, which probably took me about two minutes. Just as I approached the exit doors, a young man answered my call.

“My records show it’s in the Target parking lot,” he said, when I explained my problem.

“So, it’s outside?”


“Is there a landmarky thing, like a sign? An umbrella?” Yes, I really did say “landmarky thing.”

“There should be signs, ma’am.”

By now I was outside, on the sidewalk again, scanning, scanning, scanning the parking lot. “Okay. I see a dark blue umbrella with some white writing on it. Could that be you?”

He hesitated. “Well, blue and white are our logo colors.”

“I see people milling around.” Yes, I really did say “milling around.” “Is that it?”

Relief flooded his voice as he blurted, “People! Yes, yes, that’s it. It must be it.”

And it was. Well, kinda. The umbrella, which was smaller than the small cafe umbrellas I’ve seen at places, was several yards away from the actual site. And I might have called the pop-up structure, which held two technicians, a booth, not a kiosk. And the A-frame sign was small, not visible over parked cars unless you were pretty close. To be fair, it was in the Target parking lot, at the extreme south end. I should have been able to see it from the corner of Macy’s except I think there were cars in the way.

Once the Raiders of the Lost Kiosk part of the program was over, everything moved quickly. There were five people in line ahead of me (I reached the line shortly before 11:00), and in about six minutes I was up. The technician had me hold my confirmation number and my ID up against the plastic shielding, had me use the hand sanitizer in a little hatch lust below the shielding, and then pushed the test kit through the hatch. It all came in a press and seal bag, marked with an ID number matched to my confirmation number. “Take out the swab,” she said–the swab looked about six inches long–“Only the white part needs to go into your nose. When you’re ready, swab one nostril for fifteen seconds. I’ll time it. Then swab the other nostril for fifteen seconds, and I’ll time that.” She looked at me. I looked at her. She said, “When you’re ready you can take off your mask…”

This is the shallow nasal swab, as you’ve figured out. I put the swab into the test tube provided in the bag, sealed the bag and dropped it through the slot in the top of the locked box. And that was that.

They cut off appointments at 1:30, so the tests went back to the lab around 2:00 pm. I’d been advised several times that results would arrive no longer than 48 hours after the swabs were delivered.

It was actually only 30 1/2 hours before I was notified that I tested negative–not that I was checking my phone every waking half hour or anything.

In those hours, I worried that I’d infected friends. I checked my temperature three times a day. (No fever.) I frantically sniffed everything; nectarines, a banana, coffee beans (no loss of sense of smell). What if I were asymptomatic though? If I tested positive, how many days was I supposed to isolate? Most advice talks about isolating so many from “the start of symptoms.”

A lot of worry for nothing. The big point here; once you find the kiosk, the tests are painless and quick, and Curative’s techs were thoroughly trained and helpful. And yes, their directions could be better (a fact I pointed out in the follow up survey).

And they will text you about fifteen minutes after you finish up to tell you your Check-in is Complete, so don’t freak out when that happens. (Can you tell I freaked out? You can, can’t you?)

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