On Saturday morning, I started to feel a little tickle in my throat. By mid-morning, I was in full sick mode: sneezing, runny nose, and a headache. If it was back in January, I would have brushed it off as “just a normal cold” and kept on with my weekend plans. But now? There are some new precautions that I must take. By Monday morning, I still wasn’t feeling great. To be honest, I was feeling down-right horrible. So I jumped in the car first thing and drove myself down to the COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at Skagit Valley College.
I have been working at the testing site for about two months now, and know the process in and out. However, going through the site as a visitor—and a sick one at that—was a much different experience!
Here are some things that I learned on the “other side” of the car window.
1. Get there early
I knew that Monday would not be an ideal day to go since Mondays are always our busiest day. Unfortunately, I had little choice since I cannot go back to work or take my children to daycare until I am symptom-free with a negative test result. I arrived at 8:30 am (a half-hour before we open), and was greeted by a small line of cars. Registration opened slightly before 9 am, and it took me about 45 minutes to get through, all said and done. Wait times can vary dramatically by day, and even during the same day. If you’re worried about wait times, check out Skagit County’s Twitter page, which will be updated daily with wait times.
2. Use the bathroom before you go
I had just downed two cups of morning coffee before I left, and almost instantly regretted it when I pulled into the site. Even though there are porta-potties available for visitors, I knew that it is highly encouraged for all guests to stay within their vehicles. Adding that I had my 3-year-old with me in the car, I really did not want to get out of the car. So I suffered in silence, and thanked my lucky stars that she didn’t need to go as well!
3. Expect it to take some time
Along the same lines, it is important to expect the trip to take some time. For some cars, the trip takes 10 minutes from start to finish, while other cars may take upward of two hours. This wait is dependent on several things: time of day or day of the week, the number of staff/volunteers working that day, technical issues in testing or registration, and even extra time spent helping visitors find their insurance information or processing multiple people in one car.
I knew that I may have to wait a bit, so I made sure to have some things for my toddler to do while we sat. It was early and an overcast day. Thankfully, I didn’t need to worry about sweating it out in the car! It is typically expected that cars in line will need to wait with their windows up (for safety) and the engine off (so that workers can hear visitors’ responses and coordinate with other workers). It can be quite uncomfortable on hot and sunny days.
While many people do not have the option to leave children or even pets at home, if you are able to do so, I recommend it! Site workers will try to be as accommodating as possible on hot days, but it is easiest—and safest—for everyone if only those being tested come through the site.
4. Bring your documents
This is where I was really thankful to have some “insider” knowledge! Even though it is posted on the Skagit County website, there are times when people arrive to the site without the necessary documents. The test is free for uninsured guests. Those with insurance need to have either their insurance cards or the name of their insurance company, along with their group (if applicable) and ID numbers, with them. I already knew that my form of insurance requires that I share my social security number with the person registering me, so I wrote it down on a napkin in advance so that I wouldn’t need to yell it through the glass! This made the registration process move a little quicker, and I didn’t need to yell out my personal information.
Please note that Skagit County doesn’t pay for any lab bills. Northwest Lab bills for their lab processes. While State and Federal officials have required COVID-19 testing and treatment be free for all “medically necessary” treatment, it is possible that your insurance company will not cover a self-referred test. The individual is responsible for checking their coverage, and if their insurance company will not cover a self-referred test, the individual will also be responsible for the bill. The Skagit County Commissioners sent letters to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner and the Federal Delegation asking that they fix this problem. However, it has not been resolved.
5. Have some patience and show some grace
Though I work at the site and know that it can take some time, even I got a little impatient after 30 minutes in the car with a restless kid! The site is staffed by Public Health, other county staff and a group of fantastic and selfless volunteers who donate their time and energies to support the wellbeing of our community. A crew of new volunteers have joined the team as of late because of how busy we’ve been. Each day, there are people being trained in the process, and this can inevitably slow down your visit. Though it may seem tedious, it is so important that things are done correctly so that people aren’t accidently billed for their test, or worst case, the tests are done incorrectly and can’t be processed at all!
Now, on Wednesday morning, I am feeling a bit better, but I am still waiting on my results. I know that it can take a maximum of 72 hours to hear back with a positive or negative, and I am using this time to stay inside with my family, and drinking plenty of fluids so that I can start feeling better soon!
So while I would have brushed my illness off only a few months ago, I now have to go through several new steps. However, I do it to keep my family, friends, and community healthy. I hope that my insights into the testing site are helpful to you, and I encourage you to get tested if you are feeling under the weather. We can all do our part to fight COVID-19 and to keep Skagit healthy.