Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Local Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates technicians prepare to do a coronavirus test this week. (Photo: Alex Bowers)

Two weeks ago our kids’ sore throats and sniffles were an inconvenience. We kept them home from school so they wouldn’t infect their classmates, then out of growing concern about the spread of the coronavirus.

I came down with a slight cold last weekend – runny nose, stuffy head, slight cough and sneezes, no marked fever. I thought I’d picked it up from the kids, one of those unremarkable colds that keeps them home for a day or two.

But how the perception of the sniffles can change. My husband is a primary care physician who works in Cambridge. After the schools closed, after my husband’s office canceled all routine appointments, after we decided on virtual isolation from friends and family to prevent him handing off the coronavirus like a Frisbee on a hot afternoon, our perception of my simple cold morphed into something more menacing.

When my husband told the staff in his office that I wasn’t feeling well, they said I should call my primary care doc and explain that I have a cold, and I’m married to a PCP.

Tuesday afternoon I called my doctor at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates. The combination of my symptoms and a spouse with job in health care added up to a prompt telemedicine appointment. After a brief virtual checkup, I was approved for a “drive-in” Covid-19 test, where I would remain in my car and medical staff would administer the test. The reason for testing this way is to prevent ill patients from congregating in a waiting room and possibly infecting other patients, and to keep medical staff exposure to the virus at a minimum.

Wednesday afternoon I drove into the parking garage attached to the medical office. Following directions, I drove to the far end of the third floor, where an attendant directed me to park two full spaces away from the two or three other patients waiting in their cars. The medical staff had rigged an office space in the glass-enclosed elevator landing. I waited for several minutes, then two technicians in full protective gear emerged, confirmed my identity and my appointment time, and swabbed my nose with two swabs – once for influenza and once for Covid-19. The test swab is essentially a Q-tip on a long, flexible wand. The tech will jab it quite deep into your nose. It’s invasive and unpleasant.

Now we wait. Test results are expected in two to five days, and in this case came within 24 hours.

But what would the test results change? If the test reveals I’m not infected, it’s not a victory – it’s a reprieve. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly through our communities, and it’s not a single bullet to dodge, but a steady stream of missiles.

Our best defense is to remain in virtual quarantine – selfish and selfless at the same time. Every day that my husband sees a patient, or even goes into the office, there is the possibility for the virus to jump to him, and from him to us. We accept that risk.

At this point anyone and everyone can be a carrier; the best way that to help stop the virus from infecting more people is for us – for everyone – to stay home and deprive the virus of new hosts, protecting ourselves, our families, our neighbors and our community.