October 21, 2020

Dave Eggers: So You Want a Coronavirus Test?

Q: I think I have it.

A: Have what?

Q: It. I’ve got extreme fatigue, migraines, chills, aches, nausea and a fever of 102.

A: Are we talking about coronavirus?

Q: We are. I’m worried. I’m 50. People my age are dying.

A: That does sound concerning. Let’s get you tested.

Q: OK, I’m ready.

A: You mean now?

Q: Of course.

A: Oh, you can’t do one now.

Q: Why not?

A: How’s late next week look for you?

Q: Late next week? I’m sick today.

A: We have three appointments in mid July. Wait. Those were just taken. How’s your end-of-month?

Q: We’re four months into the pandemic. It still takes that long to get a test?

A: It depends. Looks like Tulsa has a drive-through thingie tomorrow. Are you anywhere near Tulsa, Okla.?

Q: No.

A: Keystone, S.D.?

Q: No.

A: Well, then it could take longer. Where are you?

Q: San Francisco.

A: Oh, then it’ll be a lot longer. Let me make sure … Let’s see … Typing in ‘San Francisco’ … Is that two S’s or two C’s? No, I got it. Whoa, looks like a lot of people want tests where you are.

Q: And you don’t have enough?

A: Oh, we have plenty of tests. We just don’t have appointments. You need an appointment to get a test, and the appointments — these we don’t have.

Q: Until the end of July.

A: Well, see, while we’ve been talking, those have been taken. How’s early August?

Q: But I won’t be sick by then, will I?

A: Let’s hope not! If you’re sick that long, you’d know you had the virus for sure.

Q: So if we wait two weeks before testing me, I might not be sick, and then the test won’t work. Shouldn’t I know now if I have the virus now?

A: Oh, definitely. That would be a big help for you and your family, I’m betting. Otherwise you might be living in four-dimensional terror and endlessly self-quarantining for no reason. Are you quarantining?

Q: I am.

A: Does your head feel like an 80-pound melon being stabbed by machetes that are serrated and also on fire?

Q: It does.

A: Is your family afraid to be near you? See you?

Q: They are.

A: Good. Now all you need is a test.

Q: But there are no tests.

A: I just told you, there are plenty of tests. So many beautiful tests! Just no appointments.

Q: But you have some in early August?

A: Early August? You know what? To be suresies, let’s say mid-August. And ideally you’re still sick. Otherwise there won’t be any point.

Q: So in mid-August, I come in and get a test?

A: Absolutely!

Q: And get a result?

A: Eventually!

Q: It sounded like you just said “eventually.”

A: Did I say that? That does sound like something I’d say.

Q: How long does it take to get the results?

A: Not long at all! This information is of the utmost urgency. So we’re thinking five days. Or seven. Maybe 10? No more than 12. Two weeks, tops.

Q: And then you’ll call me?

A: Of course we will. Unless we don’t. Check the website. Or the app! The app is pretty sweet. Please don’t call us.

Q: And from the app, I get the results?

A: Sure. When they become available.

Q: So I should check the app often?

A: I should say so! But that’s just if you’re concerned about your health, your possible death, the fate of your family, and the global struggle against this plague.

Q: I’ll check every 10 minutes. For 12 days?

A: Didn’t we say two weeks?

Q: So almost a month until I get an appointment, then 14 days to get a result. And in the meantime I self-quarantine?

A: Right. And then, sometime in September, you’ll know for sure whether you had Covid-19 in early July. Unless it’s a false negative.

Q: Wait. False negative?

A: That’s when you have it but the test doesn’t show it. So maybe just assume you have it. And had it. And will always have it.

Q: But if I did have it, I’d have antibodies, right?

A: Absolutely. Maybe. Do you have them?

Q: I don’t know yet.

A: You should get a test.

Q: Can I get one?

A: Of course! But you need an appointment.

Q: Can’t I get it at the same time as the Covid-19 test? Wait, why are you laughing?

A: I’m just … It’s nothing. I mean. It’s just that … You know this isn’t Denmark, right?

Q: I do know that.

A: OK, because, I mean, I just wanted to make sure. The virus does funny things to people’s brains.

Q: So I need a different appointment?

A: Of course you need a different appointment. How’s your October? The thing with the antibodies is that they don’t show up right away. That’s if they show up at all. So it’s good to wait.

Q: I’m happy to wait if it means I have antibodies and can’t get the virus again.

A: Oh for sure you can get the virus again! We think. Maybe.

Q: I just wanted some assurance that I’m immune.

A: Assurance? Oh, you won’t have that! Of all the tests, the antibody tests are the least reliable.

Q: They are?

A: Oh, man, some are just plain bad. At the beginning, the government let anyone make them and sell them without F.D.A. review. Most of them are terrible. I think Fisher-Price made one.

Q: Can we do one of the good tests?

A: We can try! I can make a note to that effect. Let me just type that in … “Would prefer to get one of … good tests. …” Got it. When would you like to do it?

Q: You’d mentioned October.

A: October’s booked. Can we say November?

Q: And the results?

A: The good thing with the antibody test is you get the results immediately.

Q: Excellent.

A: But they mean nothing.

Q: Oh.

A: It could be that you’re never immune.

Q: Right.

A: And remember that the Covid-19 test you’re taking could mean nothing, too, because it only works if you’re in the thick of the illness. So if you wait till your symptoms are gone before you take the Covid test, you won’t know if you had the virus until you take the antibody test, which also tells us nothing.

Q: So I’ll never know what’s causing my fatigue, migraines, chills, aches, nausea and a fever of 102.

A: You hear anything about this new thing coming out of Mongolia? Bubonic something? I’m thinking we keep our eyes on that.

Dave Eggers is the author of several books, including “The Captain and the Glory.”

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