Friday, June 14, 2024

I booked in for a COVID-19 saline gargle test in Victoria. Here’s how it went

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“I think it’s a head cold. BUUUUUT should I get tested?”

“If you think you should, then you prob should”

“I don’t feel feverish or anything”

“not everyone with covid gets a fever tho”

“Never hurts to get tested.”

That brief exchange of messages in my workplace Slack was what spurred me to be COVID-smart and get tested for my cold-like symptoms.

The BCCDC says that testing is available for anyone experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms, including the ones that I had been experiencing: a sore throat and runny nose.

Anyone unsure if they should get a test can also speak to their health care provider, call 8-1-1, or use the BC COVID-19 online self-assessment tool.

I don’t like going to the doctor. There’s no good reason for it. In my head, I usually duck around it by saying that I don’t want to inconvenience health care professionals, waste resources, or otherwise be a hypochondriac.

But really, I just don’t like it.

In this case, though, it’s important to note that the BCCDC wants people to err on the side of caution. Check off that you are experiencing even mild symptoms and the online tool will tell you to self-isolate and get tested.

During a pandemic, my selfish anxieties needed to be put aside: I signed up for a test.

Signing up

To begin booking my appointment, I hopped online and went to the online collection centre finder.

Three centres are currently listed in Greater Victoria: West Shore Collection and Assessment Centre (in the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre), Peninsula Health Unit (in the Saanich Peninsula Hospital), and the Victoria Health Unit (on Cook Street across from Royal Athletic Park).

A fourth testing facility was opened at the end of October at UVic, but does not currently show up on the collection centre finder.

I was in luck; the Victoria Health Unit is a short walk from my apartment.

The collection centre finder details any special requirements, like whether testing is done by appointment-only or on a walk-in basis.

Testing for the centres in Greater Victoria are all done by appointment-only, and people can book in by calling Island Health’s COVID-19 testing call centre at 1-844-901-8442.

When I called in, an automated message told me that bookings were being taken on a call-back basis. By pushing a button, my number was recorded for callback, and I received one less than 24 hours later.

At this point I should mention something about my personal situation: I moved to Victoria last year, and have neglected to properly shift my health care over from my birth province of Alberta.

Even with this bureaucratic hangup, the professional who took my appointment was able to book me in for a 2 p.m. test the following day within just 15 minutes.

For people with BC Health Numbers, the process would be even quicker.

I was also fortunate in my timing; Island Health and Lower Mainland health authorities have recently started using saline gargle tests for children and adults alike in place of the more invasive nasal swabs where possible.

The call-taker concluded my booking by having me listen to an automated message that gave instructions on the gargle test:

  1. Swish for five seconds
  2. Gargle for five seconds
  3. Repeat 1-2 twice more, for a total of 30 seconds
  4. Spit into a provided collection tube

With that, I was ready for my appointment the next day.

The Test

I had been told to arrive about five minutes in advance of my appointment, wearing a mask.

When I showed up at the Victoria Health Unit, some very clear and well-posted signage on the door directed me around the back of the building.

As I approached the rear side of the building, a parking official in a high visibility vest greeted me warmly and thanked me for wearing a mask.

He then handed me a pamphlet explaining how to get my test results and directed me to a sandwich board, which instructed testing appointees to wait to be admitted.

No other appointees were present.

I waited less than a minute before a security guard with a clipboard asked for my name, confirmed my appointment time, and smoothly ushered me into an outdoor tent with a single chair.

Again, I waited less than another minute before a registered nurse in a mask, shield, and wearing a lab coat and protective gloves emerged with the testing equipment.

For the saline test, that equipment consisted of the solution and a collection tube.

The nurse confirmed the instructions I had been given earlier over the phone for the test, then uncapped the solution and handed it to me.

If you’ve ever taken a dip in the ocean and accidentally tasted a mouthful of water, it tastes no worse than that.

The nurse advised that I needed to return a sufficient amount of the solution for testing. She then helpfully counted off the seconds to help me switch from gargling to swishing as I proceeded with the test.

30 seconds later, I was done and on my way.

Getting Results

Results from my COVID-19 testing were available online through Island Health’s myHealth portal, which I signed up for when I booked my appointment.

It took just over 24 hours for the results to come in: negative!

You can also sign up for text message notifications, or call 1-833-707-2792. Parents of children who get tested can also call this number for results.

In sum total, the process crossed four days, but only took about an hour out of my life.

Bottom line, my COVID-19 test was a smooth, professional, painless experience, and if you’re in doubt about your symptoms, as I was: get tested.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article did not include the UVic testing facility among the centres available for testing appointments. The article has been updated to include this information.

Tim Ford
Tim Ford
Digital staff writer with Victoria Buzz

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