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What’s it like to be tested for COVID-19?


Woman in mask receives nasal swab test by nurse in gown.
Nurse Lesley Lown, RN, administers my COVID-19 test.

Last month, I came down with a cold … or something. In this situation, one thought keeps popping up: “Is it COVID-19?” So, I gave BC’s COVID-19 app a try.

After I entered my symptoms (sore throat, fatigue, and headache), the app told me to get a COVID-19 test and self-isolate.

My next step was to call the Northern Health COVID-19 Online Clinic and Information Line to arrange my test. I was soon talking to a friendly nurse, who ran through a checklist of symptoms, confirming that I should be tested for COVID-19. She added that someone would call to set up an appointment for the test, and that in the meantime, I should continue to self-isolate.

A day or two later, feeling nervous and still fighting a sore throat, I drove to Northern Health’s Urgent and Primary Care Centre in Prince George. As instructed, I waited in the car until they phoned me. This way, I could walk straight in, rather than potentially infecting everyone in the waiting room.

When my turn came, I was whisked from the front door into a freshly cleaned exam room. The nurse, almost invisible inside layers of PPE (gown, mask, gloves, and face shield), showed me what looked like an elongated Q-tip and explained that she would insert it into one of my nostrils and then rotate it five times “in order to get a good sample.” Gulp! Did I have a nostril preference? Yes, somebody else’s.

After we settled on my right nostril, I pulled my mask down, and away we went. The process wasn’t exactly painful – nurse Lesley was very gentle – but it definitely felt a bit strange.

However, in the words of Nicholas Christakis, author of Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live, "A thin cotton swab shoved up your nostril beats a thick plastic tube jammed down your trachea.” 

From start to finish, my whole test took about seven minutes – I was very impressed with this efficiency.

And since the time I was tested, Northern Health has added the saline gargle test (formerly available only for children) as an option for adults, providing a less invasive choice.

As I drove home to wait for my results (still self-isolating), my nose felt a little tender. Pro tip: After a cotton swab is put up your nose and rotated five times, gently rubbing the outside of your nose helps ease the feeling.

A few days after the test, I was able to check my results online. I feel very grateful that my story has a happy ending – I didn’t have COVID-19.

And of course if I had tested positive, I would have been informed and contacted promptly:

  • You can now choose to get your results by text message / SMS
  • Someone from Public Health would have followed up within 48-72 hours to give me instructions, and to begin the contact tracing process.

Related Northern Health stories:

Northern Health info line for questions and testing for COVID-19:

  • 1-844-645-7811
  • 7 days a week, 10 am to 10 pm, including holidays