COVID-19 test painless, though wait times differ
Day staff members set out to get tested for COVID-19 in different locations around southeastern Connecticut. Here's what they found.
Test: Nov. 9
Site: Greenville Drug Store, Norwich
Wait: 5 minutes
Results: Nov. 12
I was able to book a same-day appointment at Greenville Drug Store on Central Ave. in Norwich through the website http://doineedacovid19test.com/. After providing my name, address, email and phone number, and listing any COVID-19 symptoms I was experiencing (in my case, none), I selected a five-minute appointment window just an hour later. The website had a six-step infographic explaining how the self-swab test would work. This was going to be my first COVID-19 test, so I found it useful to get a preview of what I would experience.
Because I was looking for a long line of cars in some crowded parking lot, I almost drove past Greenville Drug Store, a modest red brick building that has no off-street parking. There was no one lined up to wait for a test, just a single pop-up tent with a sandwich board that instructs you to turn off your car and wait with the windows up.
I pulled over to the curb next to the tent, and after about two minutes, one person appeared carrying a cooler and a binder. She was wearing a yellow gown, a surgical mask and latex gloves, and the only information I had to provide her was my printed appointment confirmation. A moment later she handed me a baggie that contained a swab and a plastic tube.
I obviously wasn't the first person to struggle to peel apart the packaging around the swab. She instructed me to push the handle end through the paper sleeve, and the swab popped out easily. The swab was about 6 inches long with soft fibers on one end. I followed the verbal instructions to insert the swab in my nose, swirl it around, hold it still, and repeat in the other nostril. There was no real discomfort, only a slight tickle.
The final step was to snap off the handle and insert the swab into the provided plastic tube, making sure not to spill the small amount of liquid inside. The tube went back into the baggie with my paperwork, and into the cooler of the test provider, who told me to expect a result via email within 48 hours. In all, I was there for less than five minutes. I received an email notification three days later. I signed in on the website to find that my result was negative.
Test: Nov. 11
Site: Community Health Center mobile testing site at the Homeless Hospitality Center on State Pier Road in New London
Wait: 5 minutes
Results: Nov. 13
I was able to sign in and get tested in less than five minutes at the Homeless Hospitality Center, without an appointment, and got my results in less than 48 hours. This was my eighth COVID-19 test since March and the easiest, fastest test I've gotten.
I pulled into the parking lot at the Homeless Hospitality Center about 11 a.m. and easily found a parking spot, the testing area was just a few steps from where I parked. I met one of our photographers, Sarah Gordon, at the testing site and we both got tested.
The two women working at the check-in table were kind and helpful, offering sanitized pens to fill out brief forms that asked our name, age, address, gender and race.
After turning in the forms, we waited less than five minutes. There were a few other people waiting, some sitting in chairs and others standing. Almost everyone was wearing a mask, though some people visiting the center, further away from the testing area, had pulled down their masks as they spoke to one another. There was plenty of room to keep our distance.
I was tested first, followed by Sarah. There were two health care workers administering the tests, wearing full gowns, masks, face shields, slippers and hair coverings. The test was quick and painless for both of us.
While at the center, I spoke with a few staff members, including Dana Dixon, director of health services, who told me that the Community Health Center has been offering testing at the center once per month.
She said she thinks the Community Health Center is "really stepping up to the plate by going out into the community and making testing available at different providers."
The tests at the homeless center, staff members said, make testing easy and accessibly for people who are facing housing insecurity and financial hardship.
By being able to walk up to the site, testing is easier for people who don't have cars to sit in while waiting in line. The testing sign-up is "low barrier," they said — no ID or proof of residency is necessary, making it more accessible to people who do not have a permanent address.
I received my results the morning of Nov. 13, about 45 hours after my test. I tested negative and received my results through the Quest Diagnostics app, and was alerted via text message and phone call when they were available. Sarah also received her results the morning of Nov. 13 and tested negative.
Test: Nov. 12
Site: Community Health Center of New London
Wait: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Results: Nov. 14
I went to the free, drive-up testing site at the Community Health Center of New London. I didn't need an appointment and you don't have to have symptoms to get tested here. The site also offers walk-up testing.
I'd driven past the site many times and noticed the lines seemed to be longer in the morning, with cars snaking along the parking lot of the complex and down Howard Street. I thought it would be less busy in the afternoon. But that wasn't the case. I arrived just before 2:30 p.m. and waited about 1 hour and 40 minutes to get tested.
Shortly after I arrived, an employee from the health center gave me a form to fill out my name, address, date of birth, email address and phone number. The form also asks about your sex, race and ethnicity.
This was my fourth time getting tested as this site. I've been getting testing monthly since August. In August and September, I waited less than 20 minutes. Since the region began to see a spike in cases at the beginning of October, there have been long lines. When I got tested last, during the first week of October, I waited a little over an hour.
Once I approached the area to get tested, I was asked to pull down my mask so it was just covering my mouth. The health center employee swabbed one of my nostrils for a few seconds — an uncomfortable experience but certainly not painful.
I got my results two days after being tested, on Nov. 14, by email (I tested negative). I also received a text message the next day, on Nov. 15, alerting me to my results.
Test: Nov. 12
Site: Sema4 drive-up site, Mohegan Sun
Wait time: About 20 minutes
Results: Nov. 18 due to a clerical error
For my test, I went to the Sema4 drive-up site at Mohegan Sun's Thames Garage; they've been holding four-hour testing sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This was my third test, following a September test at CVS and an October test at Bradley on my way home from a funeral in Washington state. While I preregistered for the other two — CVS required it, and I did it for Bradley just to be safe — I could pull right up to the testing site at Mohegan Sun. The overhead signage on the boulevard instructs drivers which exit to use for the Thames Garage, and while there wasn't much signage after that, the garage and parking lot were coned off in a way that guides drivers in the right direction.
Testing that day ran 2-6 p.m., and I got there at 1:55. It turns out that was a little too early, as staff were still finishing setting up; a breeze outside turned the lower level of the garage into a bit of a wind tunnel. There were a few cars ahead of me, and a masked worker came by to give me an info sheet, the form for my name, birthday and contact information, and an identification sticker to fill out for the test tube. About 10 minutes later, she came by again to drop a specimen bag containing the swab and the test tube on my windshield.
By 2:10, the line was rolling. Another worker, this time in a mask, gloves and disposable gown, came up to make sure my paperwork was good. She also told me to call the 1 (800) number if I didn't get my results via the online portal within 48-72 hours, as the lab had been running a little behind. She put the label on my test tube, opened the swab package for me and had me remove the swab to test my own nose; she asked me if I knew what to do, and I said yes, having followed the swirl-hold-repeat procedure for the CVS test. Once I finished, she held out the test tube for me to put the whole swab in, and I was on my way by 2:18.
By Monday afternoon, I still hadn't received my results, so I called the number as instructed. After getting disconnected the first time, I reached a representative who said the COVID-19 customer service team was having phone issues, so she took down my name, birthday and phone number to give to the other group.
I still hadn't heard anything back by Wednesday, so I called again around lunchtime. The representative figured out that the company had my email address wrong in the system, so she resent the email to sign up for the portal, where I found my negative test result. The report noted that the result was confirmed Nov. 14, making for a roughly 48-hour turnaround had the clerical error not happened.
Test: Nov. 12
Site: CVS Waterford
Wait time: 8 minutes, after initial delay
Results: Nov. 14
It took me two days to pre-register for a COVID-19 test at CVS; they book up to 48 hours in advance and I had to wait for an open slot. I confirmed from home for an 11:10 appointment on Nov. 12 at the CVS on Boston Post Road in Waterford. I filled out the requested information including insurance data and a series of checkmark boxes that indicated such things as what if any symptoms I have and whether I'm in a job or living situation that heightens my exposure to folks who might have been exposed to the virus.
CVS sent both email and cellphone reminders of when to arrive and what to bring: The confirmation number they'd provided, a driver's license, proof of insurance, and paperwork I printed out after they emailed it to me. You're also directed to wear a mask when you get to the drive-thru window and remain that way until told otherwise.
I showed up 15 minutes early and plenty of visible signage directed me into the left of two drive-thru lanes normally allocated for prescription pick-ups. The left is now solely for virus testing while the right is still for customers picking up prescriptions. There were four cars in front of me.
It was raining and I couldn't see very clearly what was happening at the front of the line, but the first two cars were gone in about five minutes each. Car #3 took a little longer, about 10 minutes before it exited, and then I was next in line. The guy in front of me showed his ID and insurance cards and then ... waited. Twenty-two minutes later, the car drove off; as far as I could tell, no test had been taken.
Pulling forward to the service window, a friendly guy got my name and checked my ID, then informed me there was a technical glitch with the machine printing labels for the test. Without the correct labels to correspond with the tests, they couldn't proceed. He tried a few more minutes but the issue wasn't resolved. They were kind and apologetic and promised to call me when the labeling machine was working properly. At that point, I'd been in line right at an hour.
Within 30 minutes, I got a call at home saying I could come back whenever I was ready. I had lunch and then returned at 2:10. Again, I was fifth in line. This time, the cars moved through in roughly 10-minute intervals. The guy behind the counter recognized me from earlier, apologized again for the earlier snafu, then used the sliding drawer to supply me with three separate plastic bags. One contained a sterile swab; one a secure package into which I could insert the swab after self-administering the test; and the third had a sanitary wipe with which I could clean the metal specimen deposit box after I'd put my swab inside.
Through the window, the clerk clearly and simply demonstrated how to do the test: Remove my mask and rotate the swab — about the size of a slightly longer Q-tip — three times in one nostril, then hold it steadily there for 15 seconds; repeat in the other nostril.
I did. If anything, the process is sort of ticklish; no pain at all. I put the swab in the container, tucked inside the specimen box, and cleaned the exterior of the box with the provided wipe. I was done with the process in eight minutes.
The computer glitch was unfortunate but certainly not unusual in these complex and evolving times. The CVS pharmacist/attendant could not have been nicer. I'm told to expect notification on the test results in a few days. My suggestion? Bring a book.
I got my results two days later (negative) by email and text. I clicked on a link and had to answer two security questions, which I actually appreciate.
Test: Nov. 12
Site: United Community and Family Services, 47 Town St., Norwich
Wait: 44 minutes
Results: Nov. 18
Knowing that no-appointment COVID-19 test sites are becoming more popular and thus are experiencing long lines, I brought my Day paper to read and prepared to go through emails and send a few texts to friends while waiting in the car line at the United Community and Family Services Edward and Mary Lord Health Center at 47 Town St., Norwich, on Thursday, Nov. 12.
I arrived at 9:01 a.m., as the mobile test tent behind the building just opened. At least a dozen cars were lined up in front of me at the side of the health center. A staff person in full protective garb walked up to drivers in the first several cars to hand out the paperwork to be filled out as they waited.
I didn't get far in reading the paper, as I moved up one car length at a time until it was my turn to fill out the two-page questionnaire asking for my personal information and questions about possible symptoms.
My turn. The UCFS nurse asked that I not film the test, and that I keep my face mask over my mouth as she inserted the swab deep up my left nostril and held it for just a few seconds. No pain, no real discomfort.
Pulled out at 9:44 a.m. That was easy. Looked over at the back of the line as I was leaving, and there were only a few cars waiting.
The rest was not so smooth. UCFS only calls people if they have positive test results, so no phone call was a good thing. But if I wanted confirmation of my result, I had to create an online account with East Side Clinical Laboratory and wait about 48 business hours for results. When nothing showed up by Monday in my portal, I sent an email inquiry, and on Tuesday evening was told they couldn't find my test and suggested I contact the test site to see if it went to another lab.
UCFS quickly told me Wednesday morning my test was negative (reassuring) and found out the lab had a few critical typos in my information — name spelled wrong, address wrong, even my date of birth wrong — which was surprising, because I provided that information at least twice, once in filling out the paperwork for the test and once to create the online account.
UCFS will mail me confirmation of my test result. Luckily, I didn't really require confirmation of a negative COVID-19 test for anything, such as travel or visiting someone in a restricted facility.
If you need quick confirmation of a negative test result, I recommend checking ahead for how and when to expect results before waiting in line at a test site.
Test: Nov. 12
Site: Backus Hospital
Wait: 20 minutes
Results: Nov. 16
The Backus Hospital requires that a COVID-19 test be performed within the week prior to any hospital procedures. For my "pre-op" test, I was given the option of getting the test myself at a free site or taking advantage of a something akin to VIP access testing.
The hospital provided a day (Nov. 12) and time (between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.) for me to get tested. I arrived at the front entrance to the hospital at 1:03 p.m. and was asked a series of questions by an attendant — had I traveled outside the state, had contact with anyone who has tested positive, etc. My temperature (98.1 degrees F) was checked at an automated, no-touch temperature screening device at the front desk before I got in line.
About 30 people stood in line in a hallway adjacent to the front entrance. Everyone wore a mask and there was sufficient social distancing. The actual tests were in a room on the opposite side of the entrance. It took about 15 minutes to get into that room, where there was a shorter line waiting to be checked in by two attendants who had a test kit pre-marked with my name. Monitors on the walls played a "how-to test yourself" video in a loop, so by the time I received my test kit, I was familiar with what to do.
I opened the test kit at one of a series of tables surrounded on three sides by clear acrylic shields. A friendly hospital attendant guided me through the process of removing the swab, twirling the swab in each nostril 15 times and depositing the swab into a test tube. Once sealed, I dropped the tube back into the bag and deposited it into a bin as I exited the hospital via a side door.
I was back in my car by 1:23 p.m. The test results were relayed to me online on the morning of Nov. 16. My results from Jackson Lab were negative.
Test: Nov. 13
Site: Groton Municipal Building
Wait time: 1 hour
Results: Nov. 16
Ledge Light Health District has been coordinating free, one-day COVID-19 testing at various sites in southeastern Connecticut with no appointment required, and I've been periodically checking the events tab of its Facebook page to see when new pop-up testing dates and locations have been added. A few days in advance, I saw one scheduled for Nov. 13, a Friday, at the City of Groton Municipal Building and decided to go to that.
It wasn't clear if this was drive-thru or walk-up testing; it turned out to be the former. The testing was scheduled for 3 to 6 p.m., and I entered the parking lot at 2:53 p.m. Right as I pulled up behind the car in front of me, a man with a mask and face shield handed me a form to fill out with some basic information — name, email address, phone number, date of birth, biological gender, ethnicity and address. I saw that the testing was being conducted through Sema4.
I didn't mind waiting an hour; I used it to go through work emails and read newsletters. The same was true when I waited for an hour and a half to get tested at Jennings Elementary School, through Community Health Center, on Oct. 10. When testing sites get busy, it can be a struggle to keep cars from backing up onto the street, but Ledge Light used parking lot space efficiently while maintaining a one-way flow and still allowing people through who just needed to go into the municipal building or police station.
When it was my turn, the man taking samples gave me the option of doing the nasal swab for me or letting me do it myself, and I did it myself — just a quick five swirls around each nostril. My eyes watered a bit and my nose was briefly itchy after, but it wasn't painful.
Early the next morning, I got an email from Sema4 prompting me to create an account. I did, and I found this an easier process than some of the MyChart accounts I've created. The sheet I got at the testing site said I would receive my results "in 24-48 hours from the time we receive your swab," and that they would be available in the patient portal. I was told to call if I didn't get my results.
The portal showed that my sample was received by the lab on Saturday but by Monday morning, it still wasn't showing results. I called the number given, and the client service representative said my test was still being processed. She said results have been slightly outside the turnaround window lately, with all the testing. I got an email at 2:30 p.m. Monday, so just about 72 hours after I got tested, linking to my results: "not detected."
This was my sixth time getting tested and my second time through Ledge Light, the first being a test on Oct. 29. On that occasion, I had stopped at The Day's office to pick up more notebooks, and I had seen that testing was happening two or three blocks away on Union Street, so I thought, why not? I simply walked up to the tent and did the swab myself; the entire experience didn't even take five minutes.
Test: Nov. 14
Site: Dodd Stadium, Norwich
Wait: Three hours
Results: Nov. 17
I couldn't help thinking, after the fact, that I drew the short swab by volunteering to go to Hartford HealthCare's free COVID-19 testing site at Dodd Stadium. The testing had been moved from Backus Hospital to a stadium for a reason. Thirty to forty thousand people have been seeking out testing daily in Connecticut, and on Saturday morning, it seemed like they were all at Dodd.
After following the brightly colored signs placed at logical intervals throughout the business park, I pulled into the stadium parking lot at 11:25 a.m. and realized immediately I should have gassed up my car before coming, since the fuel gauge was on low. I decided to run the gauntlet and got in line.
After creeping forward for half an hour, I could see the Quonset hut structure where the testing was taking place. I reached a sign that said, "From this point on, the wait is two hours." I wished I'd had less coffee that morning. I wished I had brought snacks. I thought about all the good times I've had at the stadium, beginning when The Day had a skybox and Norwich Navigators mascot Tator the Gator made the rounds, to the summer afternoon when my sister and I got a little rowdy at the Willie Nelson/Bob Dylan concert and mom had to drive home.
An older woman behind me in line had a dead battery, and I was gratified to see that two men immediately came to her aid with jumper cables. I reached a sign indicating the wait was 1½ hours at 12:41 p.m., and at 1:20, as I snaked along the switchbacks of cars toward the testing hut, a nice hospital employee who turned out to be my neighbor came to my window and radioed information from my driver's license to register me.
At 1:55 p.m., I rounded the final turn, and at 2:11 I pulled into the tent, where a few health care heroes were doubling as swab jockies. The nice woman who did my test told me, "I've had worse jobs," after asking me to pull down my mask, inserting a swab into each nostril and circling 10 times. I drove away at 2:15 p.m. and headed for the nearest gas station, thankful that the route was mostly downhill.
Three days later, my test result appeared on the MyChartPlus application: Sars Cov2 NOT DETECTED.
Test: Nov. 17
Site: St. Joseph Church, Chester
Wait: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Results: Expected Nov. 20
After going to a testing site Monday in Old Saybrook, I was told by a police officer the wait would be two to three hours, so instead I went to my hometown testing site the next day. The wait was a bit shorter at St. Joseph Church in Chester, which has hosted temporary, pop-up testing on two occasions. Town and state officials are coordinating to determine future dates.
Cars could enter from either end of the church parking lot. I was met immediately by four lines of cars, which volunteers consolidated into two lines as I came closer to the front of the line. I was informed that I would be called if I tested positive and texted or emailed if I tested negative. I was also given a form to fill out with my name, date of birth and other information. People were not required to have been exhibiting symptoms to get tested.
Middletown-based Community Health Center Inc. employees administered tests to the front four to six cars in line. The test itself lasted 30 seconds at most. The health center employee swabbed both my nostrils before sending me on my way.
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