Pandemic diary 101: My first Covid test

Allotment greens for the Bunminster crew

Oh hello! I'm back! And here we all are again. In a local lockdown – one of so many, let's just call it a national lockdown, shall we? Effectively we all relaxed in the summer and now we're on the upstroke of a steepening second wave, which threatens to be much worse than the first, as forewarned by the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. (Check out the three 1918 waves in spring, autumn and winter – the second one is the largest by far.)

Here in Birmingham we've already been in a local lockdown since 11 September – not allowed to mix indoors or outdoors with members of other households but ok to go to the pub and meet (because they are legally Covid-safe and we keep forgetting at home that we mustn't hug or hold hands or hand over cuppas).

This week a three-tier system (medium, high and very high) was brought in to standardise all the different lockdown restrictions happening around the UK (predominantly in the North, east and west).

Brum is in tier 2 – high. The good news is we can meet in the garden again with up to six households. The bad news is we can't meet family or friends indoors anywhere, not even at the pub. And it's autumn so it's getting cold. This is very bad news, affecting our family, of course, but also our local community groups and the high street which is all about the 'Stirchley Beer Mile', independent restaurants and eating out. Also my 91-year-old friend in a care home now won't be able to see any visitors and my 85-year-old friend who goes to visit her every day is suffering because he needs routine and social contact due to dementia.

Kenneth Williams in tiers. Via a friend via Twitter .

So that's the lay of the land. Not too surprising.

It's not just the UK where it's all going tits-up. Europe is also fighting a surge in cases. Although New Zealand and Australia seem to have it under control (or just suppressed, postponing the inevitable spread?). Meds are being researched and used in medical responses. Vaccines are in development. Test and trace systems are being put in place to greater or lesser success. The phrase, the 'new normal' was bandied around a lot for a while back there, but now we're back to 'unprecedented times'.

The personal update is that I got a sudden cold/cough on Wednesday. (How, given everything is so sanitised!?) I logged the symptoms in my Zoe Covid app as always. But this time, being in a high Covid incidence area, I got an email asking me to go for a (voluntary) test:

Thank you so much for using the COVID Symptom Study app and helping to fight the outbreak. ZOE is very excited to be able to offer you a chance to get tested for COVID-19. By getting tested, your results will help understand the level of COVID-19 infections in your area, so this really will make a difference.

Tim Spector on behalf of ZOE

I guess it helps them to rule out cold symptoms. Anyway yesterday's official invitation was from the Department of Health "to have a PCR swab test to confirm whether you are currently positive or negative for the virus". I got an appointment offered within a couple of hours and off I went to the walk-in at the University of Birmingham.

The white field hospital tent (next to my old gym, waaah!) was like something out of the quarantine scene in ET. I scanned in with a QR-code on my phone, hand sanitised, picked up my test kit and was directed to one of the 10 or so cordoned off tent booths. In it was a table, chair, mirror, light, bin and instruction posters on the wall.

Inside the kit, was a tissue. First job: blow your nose to get rid of excess mucous. Then comes the fun part – get the swab, find tonsils using the mirror and poke them with the swab stick for 10 seconds. This is a long time to be tickling your gag reflex and I was not surprised when the sound of a young kid crying filled the marquee. It must be horrible for them. Then you stick the tonsil swab up one nostril, which was a bit stingy but fine. Put the swab in the tube, cap it and seal in an envelope, which then goes in another sealed envelope.

Then discard all that waste. So much single use plastic – there has to be a better way? This was the most upsetting thing about the test, realising how much plastic we are creating and throwing away.

The bag was then scanned by the assistant and I was told I'd receive results within 72 hours. I threw my pack into a fringed window at the end of the tent and accidentally touched the fringe. Cue mini freak. If you're going to catch Covid anywhere…

On the way out a whiteboard announced: 11,393 tests carried out at the site so far. Each day there are something like 150 slots available. Maybe I'll be back. I overheard another visitor saying this was her third test.

So that happened. I'm pretty sure it is just a seasonal cold. You’ve caught October, said Pete.

Update: Result was negative.

Today I am thankful for my allotment, which is still giving up the goods even though it is nearly November. Thankyou plot 59b for the pattypan squash, runner beans, tomatillos and salad leaves.