What it is like to have a drive-through Coronavirus test

When Jane Bradley’s daughter was experiencing symptoms, she was eligible for a Coronavirus test at a drive-through centre.

A health worker at a drive-through coronavirus testing centre.
A health worker at a drive-through coronavirus testing centre.

When my seven-year-old daughter first complained of a slight sore throat, I didn’t think much of it. However, it was still there the next day and the next. We started to become mildly concerned, especially when her temperature rose slightly. We had all self isolated as a precaution since she had mentioned the symptom on Saturday afternoon.

The recent expansion in testing criteria to cover all key workers and their families meant that we could get a Coronavirus test for her - my husband works for a health charity. We could self-refer to a drive-through test centre through the government website. Our nearest centre was Edinburgh Airport.

Unfortunately, there was no test available in Edinburgh that day. The nearest centre with space was in Perth - an hour’s drive away. We decided it was worth the trip rather than wait for a slot closer to home - the guidelines say that tests are most effective within the first three days of a person showing symptoms - although up to five days is acceptable. We were already on day three.

When we got the confirmation email through, there was some confusion. It mentioned that you could bring “dependants” with you in the car. “However, the children cannot be tested,” it added. A previous confusing message which had popped up during the booking system had warned that some testing centres did not accept children - but the fact we had managed to book one in Perth using my daughter’s date of birth had reassured us that that could not be the case here. Could it?

I called the Scottish Government’s non-medical Covid-19 helpline and asked if children could be tested at the centre on the campus of Perth College.

“I don’t know,” the person on the other end told me. “And we haven’t got a phone number for the test centre.”

“Can you find out?” I asked. A sigh. “I’ll ask my manager.”

The manager also had no way of contacting the test centre – nor any information. I explained that driving an unwell child on a two hour round trip for nothing would not be ideal and could also potentially waste an appointment which could have been used by another key worker, but she had no solution. “Maybe ring the college,” she suggested.

Of course, the college was shut. So we had no choice but to take the risk.

On arrival at the test centre, the system was slick and easy - and we were relieved to find that children were accepted.

Our car was directed through various check points. Bar codes were scanned through closed windows and staff, mainly in masks, held up signs to communicate.

The website had stated that patients would have the choice of a health worker carrying out the test, or that people could do it themselves. However, in reality, the first option was not available. A test kit with written instructions was passed through the window of the car and we were left to our own devices.

The test was quick and wasn’t too unpleasant, but was difficult for a seven year old – and her parents. A long stick swabbed the very back of her throat - and then another swab had to be taken of her nose. My husband did his best.

The results came back by text message in just over 24 hours, but were disappointing: “Unclear”. This meant that the test hadn’t worked, whether from a mistake at our end when we administered the swab, or in the lab, we won’t ever know. We had to book another test.

This time, there were plenty of slots in Edinburgh. The process was similarly quick and easy - but we again, had to carry out the test ourselves, doubly nervous this time that we were doing something wrong.

The second set of results took slightly longer, but still within the target 48 hour period. Negative. We were hugely relieved, not least that we would not have to go back for another test.

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