CORONAVIRUS

What's a coronavirus test like? It depends

Many more Iowans are about to have their own experiences

Health care workers walk to a tent April 16 after taking a sample from a person for COVID-19 testing at the Louisa Count
Health care workers walk to a tent April 16 after taking a sample from a person for COVID-19 testing at the Louisa County Clinic in Columbus City. The providers were helping test people in a tent set up outside the clinic after an outbreak at a local Tyson pork plant. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

As the state ramps up to test thousands more Iowans for COVID-19, those who’ve already been tested report widely varying experiences.

Some patients had to meet specific guidelines to be tested — like being symptomatic and among a certain age demographic with risk factors.

But others didn’t.

Some waited days.

But others got results more quickly.

Test types vary across the country and within the state. Some require throat swabs. Come call for nose swabs. Others need blood work.

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, which began conducting its own COVID-19 tests in March, spells out online its preferred method of collecting samples — using throat swabs instead of nasal swabs due to a shortage of materials.

When Trevor Davison, 49, of North Liberty, realized his fatigue and body aches on April 13 might be symptoms of COVID-19, he called his family health care clinic. The clinic directed him to come in — but through an employee entrance.

When Davison arrived, clinicians met and masked him and escorted him to a room, where they tested him for the flu. After a 20-minute wait, the providers told him that test was negative and suggested he get checked for COVID-19.

“So she dug out another swab, and I got tested,” he said. “They told me that I would be called by them regardless. And they told me if I tested positive I also would be contacted by the Johnson County Public Health Department.”

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Davison said he never really had a cough and at the time wasn’t struggling to breathe. He has two young sons, and his wife works in the emergency room at the Iowa City VA Health Care System.

The COVID-19 test for Davison involved a long swab inside his nose.

“It goes up there quite a way,” he said. “It’s nothing that you’re going to cry about. But it’s a bit uncomfortable.”

It goes quickly, though, he reported. And although the staff told him the wait for results could take four to eight days, he learned two days later that he did have the disease.

“By the time I found out, I wasn’t surprised at all, to be honest with you,” he said. “I was feeling fairly poorly.”

Davison said he was tested probably four days after his earliest symptoms started. And the chance of it being COVID-19 started to dawn on him two days before his clinic visit.

At that point, he began steering clear of family members and has been isolating in his bedroom since. And although he’s feeling better now, Davison said the illness was unlike anything he’s experienced.

“You feel like, in a way, like everything’s like shutting down on you, and you don’t have any control over it,” he said. “You’re running a fever. You got so many things going on at once. So it was a little bit scary. I don’t know if I ever felt like I was in jeopardy of my life. But things changed, I felt so badly in such a hurry, that you never know.”

Larry Potter, 65, of Cedar Rapids, also described his testing experience as “unpleasant but it’s not that bad.”

Clinicians ran a swab up his sinus cavity, giving him a “burning sensation.”

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“It feels like they’re touching the front of your brain, but they’re not,” he told The Gazette.

The state, in its effort to test more Iowans as part of its strategy to reopen parts of the economy, this week rolled out a “Test Iowa” initiative aimed at assessing thousands of Iowans.

A $26 million contract for the state’s testing initiative does not spell out the specific type of tests that will be used at future drive-through sites.

It calls for testing kits that include a “sample/transport kit with swab, extraction kit, test kit, and all necessary consumables.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

Kat Russell of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.