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staff in medical gear speak to people in a parked car, a sign reads: 'Switch car engine off when parked in bays or when waiting'.
Photograph: Alannah Maher Summer Hill's Covid-19 drive through testing centre.

I got tested for Covid-19 at a drive-through testing centre. This is what it was like

Just another day in 2020.

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As is bound to happen at this time of year, I started experiencing cold and flu-like symptoms last week. It started with feeling really rundown and tired, which at first I put down to the return of my busy social life (albeit in a physically distanced form) on top of my ongoing work commitments. But I soon realised I was properly sick when I began to feel congested, headache-y and stuffy-nosed. 

I took to dosing up on cold and flu pills and cocooning on the couch to binge-watch some TV while I waited it out. I monitored my symptoms and noted that I wasn’t experiencing the typical telltale signs of Covid-19 – fever, dry cough or shortness of breath – although I was feeling the other main symptom: tiredness. 

I decided to try and wait it out in my blanket cocoon for a few days. Having a new flatmate and a new partner in my life (iso has been eventful, you guys) I didn’t want to risk spreading anything. I was wary of the steadily rising cases we’re currently seeing in Victoria. On this side of the border, NSW Health has advised that anyone with the slightest flu-like symptoms should get tested, in an effort to clamp down on community transmission. 

When I woke up on Monday morning feeling awful after laying low all weekend, I knew it was time to get tested. So I took the day off work(ing from home), and being that I don’t own a car, I put on my best virtual puppy dog eyes and asked my best friend to take me to a drive-through testing centre (we had already seen each other around the time I started feeling unwell). She agreed (her job was made redundant in the great wave of Covid-related lay-offs, so she has plenty of time on her hands). 

I googled my nearest testing centre and located one in Summer Hill (you can find yours at nsw.gov.au), and within the hour we pulled into a queue of cars (no bookings required), stayed in the vehicle and awaited staff instructions as advised on the website. We waited maybe 45 minutes to an hour in the line, with an authoritative-looking man in a yellow vest waving the cars along. We spotted a mobile dog washing van and a maroon panel van with leopard-print curtains also in the line (this felt important to mention). The testing section was under cover, with staff in medical garb with clipboards and equipment. 

When we made it to the front, about 3pm, a woman in a face mask and scrubs with glittery rainbow earrings and a stripey rainbow bow in her hair cheerfully greeted us (she told us she was trying to bring some joy to a boring job with her accessories). She asked to see our Medicare cards and went through some questions about symptoms and if we’ve been overseas as she filled out a form on a clipboard.

At the next stop in the line, a different person in medical gear administered the test one by one through our passenger windows. The first swab went down my throat (I had to tilt my head back and say “aaah”, but not poke my tongue out) and the next one went up each of my nostrils (it was uncomfortable but not unbearable, and I had a musty aftertaste in my throat, but I didn’t feel that ‘brain tickle’ I’ve heard about). When we were done we were handed pamphlets with more information (I would have preferred a lollipop) and sent on our way. The entire procedure only took a few minutes.

The following morning I received an email from “slhd-webmaster” that I nearly dismissed as spam with a link and login for “Are My Results Ready?” and details of a NSW Health Pathology text message service which I could opt in to receive. Results are promised within 48 hours, but negatives might take up to 72 hours to be given.

At 9.10pm, about 30 hours after my test, I received an email telling me my results were ready. I eagerly logged into the online platform to see a notice in a green rectangle with the reassuring word ‘NEGATIVE’. Twenty-four minutes later, I received a text message with the same information.

I’m so relieved to have the knowledge that I haven’t been unknowingly creating a new Covid cluster. Getting tested at a drive-through centre is relatively fuss-free and painless, and jamming out in the car is much nicer than sitting in a waiting room. If you have any symptoms or the slightest suspicion that you’ve been exposed to Covid-19, get tested. It is not just what the authorities are telling us to do, it is the responsible thing to do. Don’t be a dick. 

Did you know that things are changing in NSW? Here's 29 important details about the social restrictions changing in NSW from July 1.


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