Well, you didn’t expect Battleaxe to go through this pandemic and not get personally involved, did you? Of course not. So, I’ve now had an actual Covid test – result negative, I’ll say at the outset. This post describes Battleaxe’s experience of our ‘world-beating’ processes.
A few days ago I woke up feeling dizzy. In this case, it was probably triggered by sinusitis, which is quite bad at the moment. As well as light-headed, I felt sick and my stomach was upset.
Along with millions of others I subscribe to the Kings College Covid App which invites you log your health status on a daily basis – they do research into Covid symptoms. I believe it was Kings who identified loss of smell and taste as a new symptom. Anyway, I told the App how I felt. Next thing I knew they’d emailed asking me to get a Covid test. I Google it all up and there appears to be some obscure and rare Covid strain in Beijing that starts with those symptoms… Now look, according to the statistics Hastings has one of the lowest Covid infection rates in the country, and hasn’t had a new case since mid-May. It is more than exceptionally unlikely that a new Covid strain has somehow fetched itself down here all the way from China, but nevertheless I thought I’d go for it.
First thing, all test business seems to be done on-line… To navigate the system, you need to be internet-savvy, and, ideally, have a smart phone. I presume there is some steam-driven pigeon post thing for Internet backwoodspersons, but I would doubt its efficiency.
Given that as far as we knew the nearest testing places were Ashford or Brighton, I first ordered up a home kit from the Government website.
It kept asking me if I had ‘Symptoms’ but by that it only meant the traditional fever, cough etc. By ticking ‘no’ I just felt a fraud, but if I said ‘yes’ the system immediately flew into a frenzy wanting me to dial 111 etc. So ‘no’ it had to be. If I hadn’t been told to persist by the Kings app, I would have given up at that point… Many people must miss out…
Because I said ‘no’ I also did not get the formal instructions to self-isolate etc. However, Philosopher and I decided to be sensible until I got the results. Garden drinks were cancelled and dammit, we didn’t even go to the newly-opened shops.
My kit was delivered quite quickly by Amazon late on Tuesday. On receipt, you had to first register it on-line, quoting a very long reference number, then book a courier to fetch it back from you – the earliest a courier would come to us was Thursday…
Then I opened the envelope. It was full of stuff, with a big fat instruction book. You needed to be pretty competent to understand it.
The actual task turned out to be impossible. You are supposed to swab and mop round and behind your tonsils and uvula without touching teeth, gums or tongue. When I opened my mouth I couldn’t see far enough down my throat. Even with Philosopher shining a torch down I still couldn’t. No way could I have got a proper sample. I am not alone – read this…
Just for interest, I looked in Philosopher’s mouth. The relevant structures were much more visible, and he seemed to have more space in there. In case it was just us, I Googled up comparative space in men’s and women’s mouths, and yes, men have larger mouth cavities. Don’t believe me? Here is the reference. Jaws also get less mobile with age. Perish even having the thought, but could this test have been designed using younger male mouths as the model?
Even if you could have found your tonsils there is lots of other complicated flim flam to comprehend about sanitising surfaces, washing hands, blowing noses, snapping off swabs, packing up and labelling the sample. Not only that, you can only do the test either after 9pm the day before the courier comes, or before 8am on the day… The sample only lives for 48 hours…
No wonder lots of people don’t send the kits back, or end up with inaccurate or void tests. Again, I googled that. Oh what a surprise. Up to half of postal kits are not returned, despite all those sent out being counted in the Government’s daily testing figures. Here is the link.
Not to be done out of my test I went back to the Government site and reapplied, this time to visit a test centre. Philosopher said he’d noticed a little piece in the local paper that said there was a new site in Bexhill, but it implied it was only for residents of Bexhill and Battle. Apart from that, the Bexhill site has had no publicity at all. However, I applied, and was offered a test in Bexhill straight away. We went on Wednesday afternoon. The centre is operated by Randox Health. Googling up Randox immediately shows that they are the official ‘health partner’ of the Jockey Club – Jockey Club? Dido Harding? Oh don’t go there.. Oh but look at this…
The test centre is hidden away in a little car park on an industrial estate. A couple of blokes in masks welcomed us, and checked my ‘pass’ via my iPhone. Then, we drove up to a little gazebo under which huddled a trio of plump nurses in plastic aprons, sitting in garden chairs, drinking tea and nattering. There was nobody else there except for another woman in another car. As we drew up beside the gazebo, one of the nurses briefly looked up, and passed us a familiar-looking envelope.
’Here you are, pet, the instructions are all inside.’
’Am I expected to do the test myself?’
’That’s right, love. Seal it up and pop it in the white bin over there when you’ve finished.’
’But hang on, I’m only here because I couldn’t manage the home kit…’
She looked at me kindly, but faintly pityingly, as if I was either demented or deformed, or both. ’Oh dear then lovey, don’t you worry, park over there and one of us will come to you.’
Eventually, one of the trio struggled into her PPE and trundled over to us. The actual swabbing wasn’t bad – a bit retchy down the throat and sneezy up the nose. I still had to pack up my sample myself in various pots, label it and seal it in its envelope. While I was still trying to take in the instructions, the other woman in the other car shouted across that she couldn’t do her test and she needed help. The nurse rolled her eyes. ‘You’ll have to wait a few minutes, love. It’ll mean another new test kit, and I’ll have to get changed…’
I don’t know how people can be expected to manage that difficult procedure for themselves in dark, cramped cars with just the visor mirror, no proper surface, no hand washing… and what if you were actually feeling ill?
I’ll bet a lot of people just botch it, seal the thing up and don’t dare say anything. I suspect that many tests will be done incorrectly. Mr Google tells me that possibly up to 8,000 a day are rejected as ‘unclear’. Here is the reference.
On a positive note, I got the result via email within 48 hours. No Covid, as expected.
So, how would I assess the process?
Negatives, listed above. To do a self-test, you need to be intelligent, competent, internet-savvy, have the right anatomy, and be well enough to cope.
In addition, there seems to be a fixation on the traditional symptoms. Covid infection can start with all sorts of things. Many people must be missed altogether.
Positives. It is indeed true that anyone can apply for and have a test, even if you say ‘no’ to symptoms. I can only speak for the site in Bexhill, but there was so much capacity I could have had my test within half an hour of applying. The staff at the site were friendly and cheerful, even if they clearly did not expect to actually have to…. err… do anything. The results came very quickly.
Oh – and by the way, I feel perfectly well now!