Self-quarantine diary: From drive-thru test to working at home during COVID-19

Two people wearing a mask.
To avoid spreading droplets from my nose and mouth, I decided to wear a mask while waiting to get a drive-thru test for COVID-19.
Jiwon Choi | MPR News

Updated: 12:54 p.m. Friday

Working in the news business means I have read dozens of stories about the novel coronavirus for weeks now.

But when an email landed in my inbox earlier this week, I panicked.

Now it was getting personal: Someone I may have been in contact with at an out-of-town conference had tested positive for COVID-19.

Gulp.

Once I gathered myself, I immediately called my MPR News supervisor to alert him, packed up my bag from work right away and went home. As a digital producer for MPRNews.org, I knew I could take my laptop and work from home.

But I wasn’t sure exactly what I should do next, except I knew I had to self-quarantine.

Many questions, few answers

It was nearly 9 p.m. when I walked into my home from work and my brain was buzzing with questions:

“Should I call my doctor? Is the state Health Department available now? Can I take a test? When?”

That night, my husband and I called our clinic and were first referred to our health provider’s online medical portal. We filled out some forms on the website, answering questions your nurse or doctor would ask if you made an in-person visit to a brick-and-mortar clinic. That took about five minutes. We were told we could expect answers as early as that night.

Whew, first wave of relief.

We then checked the state Health Department’s website for its COVID-19 hotline hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Well, that call would have to wait until the morning.

We are in our late 20s, don’t have any underlying medical conditions or any major symptoms, so we decided to stay home and wait until we heard back from a medical professional.

So, we went to bed.

A doctor who reviewed the online forms we filled out the night before called back in the morning and directed us to get a drive-thru test.

Drive-thru test: Simple as getting a burger

Waiting for a drive-thru test for the novel coronavirus.
For a drive-thru test for the novel coronavirus, I drove to a clinic, called its staff and waited in my car in a back parking lot outside M Health Fairview Clinic in Maplewood.
Jiwon Choi | MPR News

We had stocked up on food, cleaning stuff and hand sanitizer, so before we left our apartment we scrubbed our hands and were careful not to touch handles and buttons. Then we strapped on our masks and headed to the car to go to the nearest drive-thru at M Health Fairview in Maplewood.

The drive-thru test was seamless and as easy as it sounds.

As we pulled the car into the back parking lot, we called the clinic to let them know we arrived.

Moments later, a couple of medical professionals in protection suits and masks could be seen through the building’s window.

They came out with a few swabs and sterile containers in hand.

One of them walked to our car, asked us questions about our symptoms and travel history and explained what the process would be and how long the test and results would take.

We were told they’d take our samples for both the COVID-19 test and the seasonal flu test and the COVID-19 sample would be sent to the state Health Department lab and the flu one would be tested at the clinic.

The staff member in full protective clothing first took samples from my husband with nasal and throat swabs and walked away to change while putting the samples in a double-layered zipper bag. The staff came back to our car, this time to take my samples.

The COVID-19 test, they said, would take two to three days to get results, much longer than getting the flu test results that take about 15 minutes. The testing was done in under 10 minutes and we headed back home, without making another stop.

Two days later, I got a call from the clinic, saying — my husband and I have tested negative for the virus.

Staying home is fine, until something emerges

We had stocked up on enough food, medicine, cleaning supplies and toilet paper that I thought we were set. I set up my work station next to my husband’s, and figured it would be a Netflix binge-fest on my non-working time at home.

But what I didn’t see coming was a clogged kitchen sink, which started to overflow into day one of my quarantine. Whoops.

I couldn’t let a plumber come in to fix it, YouTube how-to videos didn’t help me and the sink kept overflowing, and overflowing.

Thankfully, my landlord figured a way to repair pipes from outside my place, and got my sink fixed, but I learned a hard lesson: Make sure your home is healthy, too. You may want to see if any home maintenance is due, if your toilet flushes fine, if your water tap and sink work OK.

And one more thing to consider: Make sure you have everything ready to work from home. Many jobs, including mine, require an encrypted internet access through VPN and you may need to install some programs to get that access while you’re at work.

It was a bit of a rough start, but now I’m rather enjoying working in my pajamas for the next two weeks.

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