This is what it's like to have a coronavirus test

31 March 2020 - 06:00 By Sipokazi Fokazi
Testing for Covid-19 involves an uncomfortable nasopharyngeal swab.
Testing for Covid-19 involves an uncomfortable nasopharyngeal swab.
Image: Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

It began with a dry cough and other symptoms soon arrived, but for a week I laughed off a colleague’s suggestions that I should get tested for Covid-19.

Then it dawned on me: I had returned from the United Arab Emirates three weeks earlier and the previous week I had flown from Cape Town to East London for a funeral.

By that time, more than 60 South Africans had tested positive for Covid-19 and they all had a travel history.

I called my doctor, who told me to head straight to Tygerberg Hospital’s Covid-19 screening centre in Bellville. There, I was treated as potentially infected and ordered to wear a mask.

After being questioned by a screening doctor and a nurse, I was taken inside to the isolated testing cubicles for more questioning.

A drive-through Covid-19 testing station opened on March 26 2020 at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg. The testing station is run by Health Insite in partnership with Mullah laboratories and is fully compliant. HealthInsite says the station offers an alternative to standing in long queues at labs or state hospitals, which can put people at risk.

By 9am, the cubicles - which were continually sanitised by staff in protective clothing - were full.

I met the testing criteria, and I was taken into an isolation room with a negative pressure system to ensure adequate air circulation and minimise infection.

The testing doctor put on blue protective clothing that covered him from head to toe. He performed two nasopharyngeal tests, which involved inserting a swab into a nostril and swabbing the inside of my nose and back of my throat while my head was tilted. This was extremely uncomfortable.

Another test involved swabbing both sides of my throat, which made me gag and cough. I was then asked to cough up sputum and a blood sample was taken.

All my samples were then put in a clearly marked transparent bag, which was sent to the lab. I was asked to fill the contact-tracing form at home and send it back later.

Two days later, I received a call informing me of my negative result. The mask came off and I left my self-isolation room. I could finally kiss and hug my children again without worrying about infecting them.

With SA under a nationwide lockdown, in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, streets and busy spots in Cape Town and Johannesburg are emptying. The bustle of life at iconic SA places is now a mere shadow of what it was. We take a comparative look at these places before and after the country's national lockdown was implemented.