People wait outside in a long queue at the Hamidi Covid-19 testing lab in Claremont in Cape Town on Saturday morning, January 2, 2021. Photo: ANA/Chelsea Lotz
People wait outside in a long queue at the Hamidi Covid-19 testing lab in Claremont in Cape Town on Saturday morning, January 2, 2021. Photo: ANA/Chelsea Lotz

Different labs, different service; what to expect when you go for your Covid-19 test

By Chelsea Lotz Time of article published Jan 2, 2021

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Cape Town - Any parent understands the stress of Covid-19. Protecting your young is first and foremost, and that's how I ended up doing five Covid tests this year at different laboratories.

The process of having a test done is always emotionally gruelling. Plagued with thoughts of concern, the question of whether you actually have the coronavirus or if it's just the placebo effect brought on by a wave of paranoia as worrisome thoughts circle your mind like an uncharted storm is perhaps just as stressful as waiting for a result.

I became ill during March 2020, with an atrocious cough, fever, and body pain, et al. This was a week after attending an event at the Japanese consulate, with many Asian delegates flying in from abroad.

Full panic hit me, as news stated that Covid-19 had arrived in South Africa.

After spending three weeks in isolation, I was not getting any better.

My family, who live abroad, started to insist that I get tested, as even after a full round of antibiotics my state of health was still worsening.

I knew I would have to bite the bullet and finally get a Covid-19 test done At the time, make-shift facilities were not available, and testing was strictly for foreigners entering the country.

Yet, in the circumstances, both the doctor and hospital promptly approved me for testing.

My only option at that point was my nearest hospital, the Cape Town Mediclinic, and I can say in full surety that their testing procedures are second-to-none.

If you are waiting to be tested, you have to sit outside the hospital on a designated Covid-19 bench, which is frequently sanitised. Yes, I felt like a leper. A man in a full Hazmat suit came to fetch me.

This being my first test, I thought he looked as if he had landed on the moon.

After waiting for three hours, I was taken to a testing room, and more hazmat suit-clad nurses arrived, taking every precaution possible. I was given a nasopharyngeal (nose) swab, which hurt like hell. The nurse changed her glove seven times between entering the room, taking the swab, and putting it in the case. She said it was due to the highly contagious nature of Covid-19.

In South Africa, you get what you pay for, and once I had paid for the test, using the facility, and lab results, it had cost me R3000! I felt enraged. Other counties were offering free tests for their citizens.

It took more than seven days to receive my results, which was also highly frustrating. The test was negative, proving once again that placing blame on Asians was, quite simply put, ridiculous.

I had caught a vicious type of chest flu and a second round of antibiotics was in order.

A few months later the Covid-19 level five restrictions had been lifted, and everything seemed “relatively” normal. I couldn't wait to jump on a plane. I went to Kimberley to visit friends and after five days I started coughing again, my chest was congested and blocked.

Having just been on a plane, the logical thing was to have a test. Mediclinic Kimberley was fantastic. I had a Covid anti-body blood test taken and promptly received my negative result within six hours. The test and lab results came to about R2500. The service itself was worth it.

No hazmat suits were worn, and the environment was very relaxed and very efficient. Like a true Capetonian, the Northern Cape dry air and dust had taken a toll on my chest, found to be the cause of my horrendous coughing.

December bought about a new variant of Covid-19, said to be up to 70 percent more contagious, and friends of mine started testing positive. With Christmas looming, I couldn’t in my right mind celebrate with my loved ones knowing I may have been exposed to the virus.

So off I went to Indalo Laboratory in Cape Town.

Appointments are made via online bookings for R850, and the waiting time is usually 1-2 weeks. A week later, I found myself sitting in the most sophisticated, sleek, state-of-the-art lab I had ever seen, feeling transported 50 years into the future. A mouth swab was taken, and in 24 hours I had my negative result.

As South Africa recorded it's highest ever daily Covid-19 cases, over 18,000 in a day, doctors and scientists started to grapple with the new variant. Countries around the world called it the “South African strain”.

The virus had mutated, causing variant 501.V2.. Symptoms include vomiting, burning eyes, loss of taste and smell, and lower back pain. Well, as “Murphy's Law” would have it, I had all these symptoms, so back to the lab I went.

This time, friends had asked me about booking a test, and after a bit of research, I was informed that both Indalo lab in Sea Point and Bio-smart (also known as Biotech) were closed due to overcapacity.

You know the virus is spreading like a relentless tornado ripping through society when testing facilities are forced to close.

I eventually found Hamadi lab in Claremont, which charges only R780. Waking up at 5 am on Saturday to travel and arrive by 8 am, and hoping to be the first person there, I arrived to find a massive queue had already formed.

Hamidi is open 24/7 and has become the last resort for many who haven't been able to access labs closed due to overcapacity. After spending two hours waiting in the hot summer sun, I was eventually sent inside for my test.

My detested nasopharyngeal swab was quickly taken. The nurses looked exhausted, tired and fatigued, but the entire process was run like a military operation.

The staff ensured that social distancing was maintained, handing out dozens of clipboards, and taking payments outside before the test.

The effort itself was impressive, even if the facility itself wasn't quite top-notch.

As I wait to get my test results, my advice is that until you have your result there is no sense in panicking.

The placebo effect is powerful. I recommend taking reading material for the wait and do write your phone number down clearly on the form.

If you don't receive your results, you are the only one to blame. Always take a pen. Last but not least, remember that it's better to be safe than sorry; there is no sense in waiting for an ambulance to fetch you when you are dying, because the coronavirus can be caught and combated early on by going to your local lab for a test.

African News Agency (ANA)

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