POV: My Experience Getting Tested for COVID-19 at BU
“I proceeded with the nasal swab that felt no worse than a good nose cleaning”
On the first day COVID-19 collection sites opened for Boston University faculty and staff, a bright August afternoon, I walked to Agganis Arena for my scheduled appointment. I was curious and hopeful and apprehensive about how a system of such dissimilar parts—testing lab, sample collection sites, web portal—would come together. It was built so quickly and in a time of constant change, stress, and uncertainty that the probability of slipups seemed pretty high to me. And so much depended on its working properly—our trust in a safe workplace and the return to a version of normalcy.
For months I had pored over memos, guidelines, and clarifications of guidelines on a bewildering range of topics—from how to teach remotely to physical distancing to the best masks and shields to HVAC standards to cleaning supplies and protocols. I also wrote my fair share of memos, guidelines, and clarifications to my staff at Metropolitan College. And my colleagues joined me for many hours of Zoom deliberations, finding our path to a new way of work. But there were, and remain, vast differences in opinion about the nature of the infection and how it should be handled in individual and family circumstances. And deciding on workplace adjustments and testing categories was an intensely emotional experience.
My own thinking about the virus had traveled a long road in a very short time. The initial disbelief turned into an obsession to understand and learn more. I compulsively checked multiple dashboards for infection trends—daily and cumulative cases and deaths, infection rates, per capita stats by state and country, correlation with policies, and more. I looked at models and summoned my computer science background to understand the differences in assumptions and approaches.
It seemed logical that the sophistication of modern medicine, health, and data sciences supported by the strength of the US economy would quickly put an end to the crisis. However, the evidence was revealing a hard, obdurate fact—the virus was likely to stay with us for years. Not all news was discouraging. Disciplined mask-wearing, physical distancing, hygiene, testing, tracing, and isolation dramatically reduce the spread of the infection.
My conclusion was that with a robust health safety framework, I prefer returning to work on campus. I arrived at this answer not just by reading about the pandemic, but also because I live in a multigenerational home, and my son continued his work at Massachusetts General Hospital without interruption. But this was my personal opinion, not shared by all, not possible for all, and I respect the differences. And no matter how divergent our stands, the reliability and validity of the testing operation is the keystone that has to hold our work together.
So on Sunday, August 16, on the second day the Healthway portal went live, I logged in, read through the clear and surprisingly short instructions, and scheduled my test appointment for Monday afternoon. Promptly on Monday, I received a reminder to report my symptoms. Filling out the survey and being cleared for work for August 17 felt nicely reassuring—so far, things were working as they should. But there was still the test—and the little indignities of medical procedures kept percolating in my mind. I had heard horror stories of how ghastly and invasive it could be. An authoritative description on the internet—swab with a long stick from the nose to the back of the throat, possibly causing tears and gagging—did not help my jitters. Never mind assurances that BU had a gentler, kinder version.
When I entered the Agganis lobby, I was immediately impressed by the organization. Friendly people gave me a test kit and directed me to one of a long row of little booths. Under the benevolent gaze of a young student worker safely behind a shield, I proceeded with the nasal swab that felt no worse than a good nose cleaning. Moving through the one-way lobby, I left my sample kit at the exit, and looked back—the work was continuing in an unhurried, systematic way as if it were nothing new or unusual in a sports facility turned sample collection center. Then on Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after testing, I received my result—negative—and it felt like a victory. Not mine, but of the people who put all this together.
Later in the week, the BU public dashboard went live, and I started checking the updates. First with my obsession of the early days of the pandemic, then in a more settled way, but never with the illusion we have erased the danger. The number of tests grew, surpassed the 10,000 mark, and the positive rate stayed around 0.2 percent, 10 times lower than in the state’s. A good beginning and a long road ahead.
“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact John O’Rourke at email@example.com. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.