For about a week now, the City of Los Angeles has been offering drive-through coronavirus testing to people with COVID-19 symptoms who are 65 or older, those who are sick and have underlying chronic health conditions, and those “subject to a mandatory 14 day quarantine period due to a confirmed COVID-19 exposure (with more than 7 days of quarantine remaining.” (To find out if you’re eligible or to schedule an appointment, see https://lacovidprod.service-now.com/rrs.) This morning, we heard from a local neighbor (who has asked to remain anonymous) about their first-person experience with the testing process. They have given permission to publish their story and photos.
After feeling terrible for over a week, despite practicing social distancing and even self-quarantining, I decided to apply for a COVID-19 test administered by the City of Los Angeles. If you qualify for the test, the process of signing up for one could not be easier. Just head over to https://corona-virus.la and fill out the form, choose your time, choose your location, and you’re ready to go.
The process of actually administering the test, however, is needlessly inefficient. But before we get to those details, let me first and foremost say thank you to the people running the sites. They are out there in the sun in hazmat suits trying to help sick people who they’ve never met. What more could you ask of another person? Everyone we dealt with on-site was professional and respectful. It is my hope that, by writing this letter, some very simple changes can be made that will improve the process for everyone involved.
So what was our experience?
We arrived about 15 minutes early for our mid-day, Monday appointment at the Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center (a Fire Department facility near Dodger Stadium). There was a single line of cars that ended up being about a two-and-a-half-hour wait before we could get our test.
It’s important to note that sitting in even the most comfortable car for that amount of time, when you’re sick, is not an ideal road to recovery. It’s also worth noting that you are instructed to not eat or drink anything for 20 minutes before your test. The problem here is that you have no idea how long that will be. Because we didn’t know how fast the line would move, we played it safe and didn’t drink while waiting. Again, this is tough when you have a hacking cough — fluids are essential. Looking back, we could have easily sipped more fluids while waiting, but, at the time, the risk (what if the line started moving?) seemed to outweigh the reward.
Your first interaction with a person is someone in a hazmat suit who gives you a sheet of paper with written instructions about how to take the test. (You self-administer your test, which consists of a swab of your cheeks and the roof of your mouth.) Later on down the line, someone confirms your test reservation and then hands you a bar-coded test kit. You have one final check-in where someone goes over the instructions again and assigns you to one of two car lines.
When I asked about a discrepancy between what was on our printout and what the man just instructed us to do, I was informed that he didn’t know the answer and that they change things all the time. You then administer the test kit on yourself while trying to inch forward behind the car in front of you making your way to the deposit barrel where all the test kits are collected.
So how can this be improved with little-to-no cost increase?
1) Standardize the instructions. If the test overseers make a change, they should throw away the old stuff, print up new stuff, and inform their staff at a morning briefing.
2) Let people know the approximate wait time at various points in the line so that they can drink fluids. These people are sick and need to be able to do that while waiting.
3) The test kit requires you to fill out information with a pen. Remember earlier when I asked about a discrepancy in the instructions? This was it. What happens if you don’t have a pen? At no point were we told to bring one, and none was provided. And despite having four at our disposal, none of our pens would write on the collection vial because it had a glossy sticker on a curved surface. My guess is that filling out this info is mostly for redundancy in case a sample gets misplaced during processing . . . and that the barcode is the main way of tracking your results through the process…but how can any person being tested know?
4) Last, but not least, this all takes place in a massive parking lot. Use the space! After giving me my kit, guide me to one of the hundreds of parking spots were I could park and do the test at my pace. The others and I could then drive to the exit with the collection bin when finished with our tests. This way, the line no longer moves at the pace of the slowest test-taker. Remember when the TSA switched from single front-feed x-ray machines to side-load machines? This is just like that. You’re still administering the same amount of tests with the same number of people — but with dramatically lower wait times for the sick. Everyone wins.
To be clear, I’m so grateful to finally have been tested, and today’s experience will not change that. But if the sick can get better care through simple changes — why not make those changes?
By the way, I was told that it would take 24-48 hours to get the test results. They telephone you if you’re positive, and they e-mail you if you’re negative.
[Note: as of this writing on Thursday morning, our correspondent has not yet received results from the Monday test.]