With most new things, we often feel more comfortable if we can ask a friend or family member with experience. How’d it go? Did it hurt?
I headed to the Carroll County Agriculture Center on a sweaty weekday afternoon to get my nostril probed in hopes I could share my experience of taking a COVID-19 test.
There are several locations in Carroll that serve as testing sites. I chose to schedule an appointment at the Ag Center site because it is run through the Maryland Department of Health. A list of places offering testing is available at coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/symptoms-testing, or you can call the Carroll Health Department hotline at 410-876-4848 for help with signing up or finding a testing site.
According to the state health department, in a set of FAQ’s dated July 1, “Everyone is encouraged to get a test ― even those who do not exhibit symptoms or have a particular reason to suspect exposure.”
Maggie Kunz, health planner with the Carroll County Health Department, said via email, “Tests are sent to private labs and results are returned to the ordering provider and can also be accessed through a secure website associated with the lab. The private labs are struggling to keep up with the demand for testing.”
A person I know was tested on a Sunday and received a negative test result 10 days later.
Previously, you could not order your own test through a state-sponsored testing site. A health care provider had to refer you. This has changed with the availability of tests and the state’s testing strategy, according to CRISP, the regional health information exchange.
To make an appointment, you register ahead of time via the Carroll County Health Department website. Some state websites still list that this testing site requires a doctor’s referral, but that was not the case. I filled out the form with basic information including my name and address. Less than two hours after submitting, I received an email that my “physician’s order for COVID-19 lab testing has been accepted” and I was able to choose an appointment time. I selected one the next day.
(Due to the summer heat, the hours for the Ag Center Testing Site will change starting July 14, to 9 a.m. to 12 noon.)
I arrived at the testing center about 20 minutes before my scheduled 3 p.m. test. I traveled the long driveway to the location familiar to many Carroll countians from fairs, flea markets and rodeos.
I checked in at the first table by showing my driver’s license through the window of my car. After moving past this point, I was instructed to wear a face covering.
The wait time was about 30 minutes from entering the Ag Center property to getting my test. I waited in a line of cars. Staff directed us, and were clearly marked by fluorescent vests. This day, Tuesday, July 7, I was thankful to have working air conditioning in my car. I listened to an audiobook to pass the time. Those accompanied by children, or those who are hoping to be tested during a set time break from work may especially want to be aware of the potential wait time.
There were two different lanes for two vehicles to move through the testing site at a time. When it was my turn, I pulled the car inside the Shipley Arena and turned off the engine. Traffic cones marked out where I should park and there were signs letting me know what to do next. Off to the sides, staff and volunteers sat at folding tables working on filling out forms.
I presented my ID through the window again to the person who would administer my test. She provided me with a set of take-home information and a tissue in case my eyes or nose watered due to the swab. I removed my face mask and she asked me to tilt my head back so she could reach to insert the swab in my nostril.
I remained seated in my car through the whole experience.
The swab was unsettling and went farther into my nasal passage than was comfortable, but at no point did I experience pain. If you were a bored and depraved child like me who tried to see how far you could stick a cotton swab up your nose, it feels exactly like that. Please don’t follow my example. Compared to getting my nose pierced, this was much more pleasant.
I do not have any disabilities that would affect my ability to get tested. I am also a licensed driver and own a vehicle. If you do not drive, but are able to have another person drive you, you can still use the drive-through testing center.
“We can test multiple people in a car, or just a passenger,” Kunz said via email. “However, if someone thinks they may have COVID-19 or thinks they have been exposed to the virus, it would be better not to have others in the car, who may be exposed through close contact.”
According to Richard Brace, the health department’s water quality supervisor, who is running the Ag Center testing site, they have been able to to accommodate people with disabilities as well as children. The sign-up provides a space to indicate that the person being tested needs accommodations.
Said Kunz: “People who are not sure if they can easily be tested at our site should call our call center (410-876-4848, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), so we can help assist them in determining the best setting for them to be tested. This would include those with limited ability to bend their neck backwards or turn their head to face the window.”
The Ag Center site uses nasopharyngeal swabs, which may be more uncomfortable in patients with deviated septums or nasal fractures. Anyone on anticoagulation medication should inform the specimen collectors “in the (unlikely) event they have a nosebleed.”
My test administrator counted while the swab was inserted in my nose, which was helpful to let me know to stay still and sit tight. While it was inserted, I caught myself holding my breath before realizing that it was making me tense my body.
When the swab is removed there, the tester makes a little twist, which was by far the worst sensation. But the feeling faded within minutes.
For full disclosure, the Times did not inform the testing center beforehand that I was a reporter, in an effort to make sure that my experience was not different from any other Carroll resident’s. The testing site does not allow photo or video to be taken on site. We set up a camera on my dashboard to take photos beforehand without knowing this information. Because of this, we asked for permission to use the photos for publication, understanding that they do not identify any other individuals or vehicles besides my own.
I admired my test administrator, who was dressed in personal protective equipment including a gown, cap, mask, gloves and face shield. It could not have been comfortable in the 81-degree heat.
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She still was kind enough to smile and tell me I did “beautifully.”