Column: Three COVID-19 tests for three different California

You went through a coronavirus nasal swab test, you went through it all.

Panic rushes to meet. The hours spent cataloging the last days – every person you met, every place you visited, every cough or sniffle – after you booked it.

Then the actual test – not painful, but very uncomfortable. Imagine sniffing water in your nose, except you can’t throw it away and the tampon has touched a part of your body that you didn’t know existed. Then you get to make the other nostril.

Then the wait. That awful, horrible wait. Finally, the results.

Everything is played like a twisted version of “Groundhog Day”, but without humor.

There were more than 28 million COVID-19 tests administered in California in 2020, which means that painful scnoses have united Californians like no event since, well, anything. Or at least I would.

Because this is a state of baked inequity in our bones and every COVID-19 test tells a story about another California.

I have seen this happen closely with three examinations in the last six months.

The first happened in June, after we spent two days covering the Black Lives Matter protests in Santa Ana and Anaheim, which were attended by thousands. I made sure to practice the right protocol – social distance, wearing a mask, constant hand hygiene. Every night, I would go home, take my clothes out of the garage, take a shower, and then try to hug my wife, who runs a restaurant.

Good try. She insisted on quarantining until I gave negative results – not even a peck on the cheek until then.

Orange County was on the verge of getting its first wave of coronavirus, so testing was inadequate because local officials didn’t think coronavirus was a thing (many still haven’t). I tried to schedule a visit with my insurance provider, Kaiser Permanente, but he refused. Only people with COVID-19 symptoms were eligible, the same criteria for all free public tests in Orange County at the time.

So I found a walk-in clinic in Tustin that administered tests to anyone for $ 175. Today, I know now that you should wait a few days for a possible exposure to COVID-19 before taking one – but back then, I just wanted to get back into my wife’s arms as soon as possible.

I was able to make an afternoon reservation the day I tried. The procedure was simple: register and pay, then return to my car and wait. It lasted less than 10 minutes. Maybe 10 other people were waiting in their cars. They all seemed as inconvenient as I did.

A nurse came and asked me to take off my mask so that only my nostrils were exposed. While processing, the nurse asked why I want a test if I do not feel symptoms. I explained how I participated in the Black Lives Matter rallies and I wanted to be careful.

She smiled.

“Protest on the spot,” said the nurse, who was black, then left.

The clinic told me that I would get results in a week by phone call. It lasted 10 days. Negative.

Recently, I checked to see if the walk-in clinic had slots available. They had no hours available for weeks.

The second and third COVID-19 tests I experienced happened the same day, after a COVID scare at my wife’s restaurant. The moment could not have been worse: Black Friday. She closed her restaurant for four days, despite the financial blow, because it was the right thing to do – for the safety of her employees and customers.

Orange County now offers more free trial locations. Kaiser now allows people who believe they have been exposed to someone who has been COVID-positive, although the results last five days. We wanted an instant peace of mind, so we showed up for an early Christmas present for my wife: a quick test with results in 24 hours. I’d take the Kaiser, because it’s a cheap bar.

The location for his health check was a boutique rehabilitation clinic in Newport Beach, near John Wayne Airport. The people there drove with Land Rovers and Mercedes-Benz sports coupes. They wore designer sunglasses and Chanel. Some didn’t even bother with masks while waiting in line.

The conversations between this crowd sounded like a Sunday brunch along the PCH. One person boasted that he tested weekly in order to live life as if there were no pandemic. Others were on their way to vacation – Hawaii, Cabo San Lucas, Europe – and needed a negative result to board their flight.

“All these people here are taking her to relax,” my wife muttered. “I’m here to try to make sure I can work.”

I got her results before midnight: negative. I paid the same amount for this 24-hour test – $ 175 – that I did in June for mine.

It took about 20 minutes between our arrival at the Newport Beach clinic and my wife’s test, so I was expecting the same quick trial at the Kaiser Permanente campus in Anaheim. Along the way, I noticed that the parking lot of a Fry’s electronics store was packed and I made a note to go shopping early for Christmas.

When we arrived at Kaiser, about 20 people waited six meters away to enter the main building. Not bad, I thought.

Wrong line – it was for flu vaccines. The COVID-19 test was performed in a nearby parking lot.

The one from Fry Electronics. The store closed in March, and Kaiser now used it as a stage.

Oy vey.

The time between me that reached the end of the line at my test: two and a half hours. Kaiser workers in masks and face shields walked around the cars, like In-N-Out workers trying to speed up orders. The wait was so long that I finished an entire issue of the New York Review of Books. Before succeeding, whole geological ages pass that.

I would look at reading book reviews every few minutes to check on my test colleagues. Everyone seemed tired, scared – the opposite of the two previous experiences.

When it was my turn, I entered a parking lot that separated Fry’s from Kaiser. I noticed a sign asking people to stop their cars and put their keys on the board. I asked the kind worker who accommodated me to explain my justification.

It seems that several people would step on the brake instead of placing the car in the park before being tested. The shock triggered an involuntary reflex that saw their foot release the brakes.

Front-line workers, indeed.

I was told that my test results would be available in five days. They were available in three: negative.

As coronavirus rates continue to explode, I will most likely have to do more tests. You too. If this moment could unite California once and for all.

Only if.