In the first days of spring break and the stay-at-home fiasco, I developed a fever and chills. I was lethargic all day and got muscle aches whenever I tried to move. Taking a shower or walking to the bathroom were activities that could leave me dizzy and dry heaving.
And with the layer of sweat always between me and the world came another layer of stress, for news of an impending pandemic in the U.S. was ubiquitous. I wondered to myself, could this be the novel coronavirus? Am I one of the early unfortunates in the state of Tennessee to contract the disease?
I had not recently traveled to China or Italy, nor had I been around anyone who had. I also was not exhibiting the trademark respiratory symptoms of the virus. As a result, I could not get tested at the time, and I will never know the answer to my questions.
The facts and policies surrounded testing, like seemingly everything else about this pandemic, are constantly changing. We now know that people who have never traveled outside the U.S. are dying of the disease and that many people, especially younger individuals, can carry the virus without showing any symptoms.
Though the number of available tests in the U.S. is still far below where it should be, it is much easier to get tested now than it was five weeks ago, when testing was unavailable for me and many others who wanted it.
It is impossible to give universal steps on how to get tested, since policies change from county to county and from day to day. But if you are trying to get tested, either because you’ve been in contact with someone who may have the virus, you are showing symptoms yourself, or you just want to make certain that you are safe, then here are a few broad steps you should take:
Evaluate your symptoms and travel history
Some cities and counties are beginning to allow anyone, regardless of symptoms or travel history, to get tested. But many areas are not equipped to provide broad access to testing, and require that people show symptoms or have documentation of being around an individual who has tested positive before getting tested themselves. You can do a quick Google search to figure out which of these categories your city or county falls under.
The most common symptoms of the virus are fever, tiredness and a dry cough, which, in the age of pandemic, seems to have become the international sign language for “stay away from me.” If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then getting tested is a good idea, in addition to self-isolating and wearing a face mask.
It is also a good idea to get tested if you have had to travel outside the home for work or errands and have strong reason to believe you could have been exposed to the virus. In some cases, you are required to provide some form of strong evidence for having been in the same space as an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19, but this is becoming less common as the virus spreads, often unseen and unfelt.
Call your local health department or healthcare provider
Most public health departments across the nation have set up hotlines where concerned callers can ask questions about the process of getting tested. For example, the Knox Co. Health Department is using their Public Information Line at 865-215-5555 to answer questions about testing. If you are exhibiting symptoms, have been near an infected individual, or live with or around vulnerable individuals and want to know if you have the virus, then call your local healthcare experts and ask for their advice.
Rarely has it been more vital to listen to the voice of experts. You can call your county’s health department or your primary care provider to get answers to your questions. You can call your old pediatrician whose number is still in your phone even though you’re 23. But the bottom line is that healthcare professionals are still working every day through this pandemic to answer your questions and administer coronavirus tests when you need them.
Self-isolate for at least two weeks
If you have any suspicion that you have contracted the coronavirus, even if you ultimately decide not to get tested, it is always advised to stay at home. It may be even wiser to stay in your bedroom. The smaller your radius of movement, the more likely you are to keep yourself and others safe. It is often hard to know what to do at a time when so much is in flux. Luckily, the directive to stay put is actually very simple.