"Better safe than sorry" seems to be the new mantra adopted by my family during the coronavirus pandemic, and it has never felt more salient. My parents – both immunocompromised and in their sixties – live by the motto and still have not granted me access to their home. I'm glad they're being cautious.
After my partner recently took ill, I applied my parents' refrain in our decision to get tested for the virus. Although neither of us believed he’d contracted COVID – we’d been hypervigilant about washing our hands, not touching our faces and socially distancing from others – we couldn't be certain. Searching “gastrointestinal symptoms and COVID” online did not quell my anxiety, as I discovered five per cent of adults present with nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhea.
We then completed an online self-assessment where the recommendation to get tested seemed inevitable. Are you fatigued? Get tested. Runny nose? Get tested. Pink eye? Get tested.
This symptom inclusivity makes sense. Public health officials continue to warn Albertans that COVID has not gone away, and the World Health Organization estimates 80 per cent of infections are mild or asymptomatic.
When it came time to get tested, a nurse wearing a yellow hospital gown, plastic visor and mask approached my rolled-down car window and introduced herself as Leah. She then asked the crucial question: “How are you feeling?”
"I feel fine," I said, before looking at my partner in the passenger seat. He was not feeling fine, but he also didn’t have the symptoms typically associated with COVID-19. If this were our pre-pandemic world, we would've just assumed he had a stomach bug.
I opened my mouth and Leah manoeuvred a swab back-and-forth against my throat. I fought an intense urge to gag, and my eyes bulged in discomfort as she instructed me to stick out my tongue. After placing the swab in a labelled vial, Leah repeated the procedure with my partner. Just like that, we joined the more than two million Canadians who have been tested for the virus.
Although it's tempting to believe a semblance of normality is beginning to return, it's also potentially dangerous.
People with even the mildest symptoms should get tested not only for themselves, but for the portion of the population most vulnerable to the coronavirus. For them, infection does not just mean the inconvenience of a two-week isolation; it could mean death.
A few days after getting tested, an unknown number called my phone. The results were in, and we did not have COVID-19. By then, my partner had recovered, but we still cancelled our plans the night before. Better safe than sorry.