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Perception Versus Reality with Rapid Covid Testing

The current perception is that if you want to get tested for Covid-19, it’s as easy as driving to your nearest drugstore. The reality, at least in Houston, is far different.

Last weekend we both began exhibiting symptoms of something–allergies, a cold? Or worse. Was it the spiked monster itself? The dreaded ‘Rona? We had certainly grown lax about masks, particularly around friends and neighbors. After all, we got vaccinated: why worry? Yet with numerous breakthrough cases now being reported, that worry returned. We decided to get tested. 

To our surprise, the testing process proved incredibly annoying. A pair of neighborhood drugstores had been advertising free Covid-19 tests for months. Should have been easy, right? When we inquired, however, we found that there were no testing spots available. Using both the CVS and Walgreen’s online scheduling app, we scanned for spots at every location in the area for any day that week. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

We then moved on to the local doc-in-the-box clinics. These places all had availability but the tests were not free nor did they accept insurance. The going rate was $200 per test. And at least one of them only accepted cash.

Finally, we checked the county health website to see what they offered. Here we found free, same-day testing but only in three rather remote locations. We picked the closest one, about thirty minutes north of town. After being misdirected by Apple Maps (which took us to an empty field seven miles away), we found ourselves in a car line that stretched for blocks. That line took almost three hours during which time we listened to a continuous stream of breakthrough virus stories on the radio. At least, we felt like we had made the right decision.

When we arrived at the top of the queue we understood the wait. The county had provided a single worker for registrations. She was manually entering 12-digit registration codes that drivers pinned to their window (QR scan, anyone?) and then walking back to a table to retrieve a printed bar code. The flow was as congested as I felt. To be clear, we appreciate the county and those front-line workers who so generously performed this service. I could just see this process running more smoothly with a bit more funding and IT support. Perhaps that will change given the uptick in testing now underway.

Our test results arrived about 24 hours later. Good news: we were both negative. 

I don’t think we overreacted by getting tested for what was probably just allergies. Apart from all the stories in the media, we just heard one from a neighbor. She and her husband attended a wedding two weeks ago. Everyone in attendance was vaccinated and no one wore masks. The symptoms appeared a few days after they got home. Here’s how she described it (paraphrasing):

“You know how you often wonder if you’re getting sick? Well with Covid, there was no question.”

They both described congestion, coughing and the tell-tale fever. She added that it was “miserable.” My wife heard this story just as they were finishing a ten-day quarantine. This, after our testing experience.

The takeaway? Yes, vaccinated people can get Covid-19 and if you suspect it, plan on devoting a chunk of your day dealing with the test. That, or be prepared to pay out-of-pocket for the convenience of immediacy.


UPDATE: September 2021

I had to get test for work and found a place called Curative.com that offered self-administered tests for free. It’s usually not same-day, but I was able to get a test within a day or two of checking. The whole process took maybe five minutes. No wait. Beats three hours!






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