Before our recent trip to Maine, my husband and I both got tested for COVID-19. Most New England states are currently requiring out-of-state visitors to have had COVID tests within 48 hours of their arrival so we wanted to be prepared to provide our test results in the event that we got pulled over my an officer at a checkpoint.
Our tests came back negative which didn’t surprise us because: (1) our potential COVID-19 exposure has been super limited, (2) we’ve been diligently taking all precautions, and (3) we haven’t experienced any symptoms, but I’ll admit that it made me feel better to get the confirmation.
We made an appointment with our local COVID testing location (there are a LOT of options here in Seattle 🙏🏼) which was incredibly easy and there were lots of testing dates / times available even just a week out from our desired test date (given the constraint of our travel dates).
*PLEASE NOTE: You are strongly encouraged to pre-register for testing. The testing locations can only accept patients without an appointment if you have: 1) symptoms or 2) exposure to a KNOWN positive.
Upon scheduling our appointments we received text messages from the city of Seattle with easy-to-access links to complete any paperwork on our mobile devices and they sent us text reminders on the day of our appointment! I so appreciated the ease of scheduling and use of modern technology throughout the entire testing process.
The testing location that we went to was a drive-thru, which made it feel even more secure because we were able to stay in our own vehicle (still masked, of course) and safely distanced from everyone except for the professionals.
We were first met by a greeting attendant that told us where to go after we let them know that we were there for an appointment (this particular testing location was previously used for emissions testing so it is PERFECT for this use case since it’s covered, but still has a lot of open air!). We happened to schedule our appointment for a time when the lines were fairly short, which was great. All in all, we were probably in and out in under 15 minutes… I was impressed by how smooth the process was! While waiting in our lane, a check-in attendant with a tablet came over to our vehicle’s window to ask for our phone numbers in order to pull up our personal details that we had entered online when we scheduled the appointments.
The check-in attendant provided our info to the swab prep attendant (lol I’m making all of these titles up; can you tell? 🤣) who confirmed our birth dates, then provided each of us with a vial with our respective info on their labels — we would hand these personalized vials to our swabbing attendants at the final checkpoint. The prep attendant also gave us paperwork to take home which provided COVID-related guidance, city resources, and also included a special QR code that would direct us to the lab’s website where we would be able to access our results.
We pulled up to the swabbing station and the attendants gave us a brief summary of what to expect from the “procedure” and asked if we had any questions before administering our nasal (read: brain 😜) swabs. (The swabbing attendants were from our local fire department! Thank you for your service, SFD!!!)
Photo Credit: Damir – stock.adobe.com
The nasal swab attendants requested that we keep our masks on to keep our mouths covered, but pulled down just low enough to expose our noses for the swab (as seen demonstrated above). Additionally, my attendant recommended breathing only through my mouth while he was administering the swab to make it slightly more comfortable (this may also lessen the swab from being such a sneeze trigger?). He was super skillful and gentle in his technique when getting the swab to the part of my nasal cavity where a sample could be collected. The attendant retrieved samples from both nostrils and I got a few seconds in between the swabs to gather myself 😅. Each nasal swab lasted for ten seconds, which felt like ten minutes when you have a foreign object in your nose!
The best way that I can describe the nasal swab experience is: it’s essentially the same sensation as if you’ve ever jumped into a chlorine-treated swimming pool and had that water blasted up your nose. It’s definitely unpleasant, but on the pain scale it’s super duper low.
Once the samples have been collected, the swab is placed in your labeled vial and the vial is put into a cooler to be sent to the lab for analyzing. We were told that we would have our results in 24-48 hours; we thanked the swab attendants and then drove off — so easy!
Honestly, I had been dreading this nasal swab process because I was under the [false] impression that the swab used to collect the sample was that LONG mega q-tip that doctors often use to collect a throat culture. The idea of that stiff wooden stick with a massive knob of cotton on the end going that far into my head had me totally freaked out! As you can see from the image above, the type of swab that they actually used for the test was ultra thin, flexible, and has a very soft (flocked) brush tip to gather the sample(s). I don’t know if the FLOQswabs are the standard swabs that are being used nationally now that we are 6+ months into dealing with COVID here in the United States, but I have to say that this kind of swab was WAY more comfortable than I was anticipating. Please don’t get me wrong here: the swab process was still very uncomfortable, but I imagine it would have been much worse with the other type of swab stick.
We were fortunate that our test results were available 24 hours later so we were able to print the results to take with us on our trip — such a quick turnaround!
If you live, work, or regularly visit Seattle, and you are experiencing a symptom(s) of COVID-19 and/or you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the past 14 days, you can be tested for free.
What you’ll need to get free testing:
- A photo ID with your date of birth. Testing is available regardless of your citizenship / immigration status.
- Insurance card, if you have insurance. If you have insurance, Medicare or Medicaid you must provide this information and UW Medicine will bill them. You will not be charged for the test. You do not need to have insurance or a doctor’s note to schedule a test.
Just to be clear, this particular test (the PCR test) only shows whether you actively have the virus — not if you have already had COVID-19 and now have antibodies. The virus is mutating (as viruses do) and people can be reinfected with the same [or a new] strain of coronavirus… so please don’t think that because you may have already had this virus that you are now completely immune! Please protect others and continue to wear a mask.
I hope that sharing my experience helps you to feel more comfortable with the COVID nasal swab process; it was honestly a lot easier and less uncomfortable than I was anticipating. I highly recommend it if: (1) you’re feeling flu-like symptoms, (2) have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or (3) if you’re just considering [domestic] travel right now (even if by car! You can still take your germs with you if you don’t travel on an airplane! 😉).
Be safe and wear a mask, friends!