Toronto·Point of View

I went to get tested for COVID-19. Here's what it was like

This week has seen a shift in testing in Ontario, with the Ford government now encouraging anyone who wants to get a test to get one. So CBC Toronto reporter Farrah Merali thought she'd put that to the test to see how easy it really is. 

Ford government has asked more Ontarians to get tested, so here's a look at what to expect

CBC's Farrah Merali takes a look at what to expect when getting tested for COVID-19. 3:15

This week has seen a shift in testing in Ontario, with the Ford government now encouraging anyone who wants to get a test to get one

So I thought I'd put that to the test to see how easy it really is. 

I have no COVID-19 symptoms, haven't been around anyone who has tested positive, and I haven't travelled outside Canada for months. But I have been out grocery shopping and as a reporter, I've been out and about — travelling throughout the city and interviewing people from a safe distance. 

A snapshot of one of the two forms you're given when you arrive at the testing centre. (Farrah Merali/CBC News)

Here's what happened when I went to get tested at the drive-thru centre in Etobicoke  — a process I documented for CBC Toronto that you can watch in the video above. 

Arriving

When you get to the site, you pull up to a parking lot where a security guard signals for you to open your window. I'm handed two forms: a screening sheet and an information paper. The guard tells me the wait will be about an hour. I get there at 9:30 a.m.— 30 minutes before their listed opening time — but the line has already started.

The lot is massive, and I'm ushered towards the far right side, where three rows of cars are tightly parked. After I park, another security guard asks me to pull up even more — to make room for as many cars as possible.

The line keeps getting longer at the Etobicoke General Hospital drive-thru testing centre. (Farrah Merali/CBC News)

Within an hour, the lot now has nearly 11 rows completely full. By 10:30 a.m. I still haven't moved.

It's 26 C outside and it feels hotter with the humidity. Before coming to the site, I wasn't sure about etiquette. Are you allowed to get out of your car? Should I be wearing a mask right now? I stayed in my car and waited. I later learn you're encouraged to stay in your car and masks aren't mandatory.

Getting tested

About two hours later, I drive into the first tent where they take my screening form and my health card. A few minutes later, the staff member comes back and directs me to one of the two lanes heading into the second tent, where the testing happens.

When you get near the front of the second tent, you roll down your window and speak to a doctor. She asks me why I I'm getting tested, whether I have any symptoms or have recently travelled. I tell her I want to get tested ... just because.

A very flattering shot of the uncomfortable moment right as the swab goes all the way up. (Farrah Merali/CBC News)

After this, I pull into the actual tent where you get swabbed. Through this whole process, I'm wearing a mask, so when I roll down my window, the nurse asks me to tilt my head back against the car seat and pull down my mask just below my nose.

That's when the fun starts.

A thin stick goes right up your nostril — so far back it almost feels like it's going to hit your throat. The nurse moves it around — a lot — and it makes you cringe a little. It's not painful, per se, but it makes my eyes water.

After two-and-a-half hours of waiting, within 15 seconds it's all over. As I'm leaving, I overhear the security guard tell someone else the wait is now closer to four hours.

The waiting game

I'm told it will take one to two days to get my result, but that comes with a caveat: even if my test is negative, the doctor says there's what's called a 30 per cent "false negative" rate. What that means is that there's still a 30 per cent chance I've been exposed to COVID-19. She says if I start to develop symptoms I should come back and get tested again.

And so the refresh game begins. I've now logged in to the Ministry of Health site about a dozen times since Tuesday. As of Friday, my results haven't been posted online. I'll probably log in a dozen more times before the day ends.

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