Attracted to the prospect of help in the fight against COVID-19 – Offer 50 dollars Amazon Card to sweeten the deal – I agreed to be part of a recent trial of a new reusable home virus detection test device.
Aptitude got my name because, as an adult student in Behavioral and Social Change Communication, I took the test regularly at sites set up at Schott or Wake Centers for Extended Learning before going to a ceramic class on Wednesday morning.
During the height of the pandemic, students were required to take the test within a few days of attending an in-person class, but the tests are now more of a suggestion, and a compliment to your fellow students. Vaccines and masks remained mandatory.
I’ve continued to get offers – which are still available at my two adult education centers, as well as at the main campus to communicate behavioral and social change – because it’s an easy way to get free and convenient COVID-19 testing if you’re concerned about potential exposure, or just to be on the safe side.
So, when the email from Aptitude appeared in my inbox, I signed up for the trial without much hesitation. The short instructions to the participants indicated:
1. It would be a 2 hour appointment (which it wasn’t – more like a few 90 minutes, even with some blunders on my part), so I might want to bring a book or phone to keep me occupied during downtime between sample sets.
2. I must not eat, drink, smoke or use oral hygiene products 30 minutes before the test.
3. I should not take any further home COVID-19 tests within eight hours of my appointment.
My session was set at 11:30 am on Monday, and I arrived on time at the test site, and Julieta Valley Community Center. I stopped at a parking lot in the circular driveway outside the historic building on Hollister Street in the Old Town.
Aesthetically, the wretched community center, built in 1927 as the Giulietta Union School, has seen definitely better days. But, as a COVID-19 testing site for several months, it has played an important role in helping to save the lives of local residents.
I walked down the hallway to Room 3, where a young lab technician escorted me in a blue surgical paper gown and a white mask much like KN95 that covered my nose and mouth.
She gave me a piece of white paper tape with a number on it to stick on my shirt, and signaled me to sit across from her in a small desk.
The procedure involved four sample sets: two that I would test on my own, presumably to see if the test kits were easy to use enough that a lay person like me could figure them out, and two that were collected by a healthcare professional for further scientific study.
After watching a short video tutorial and being given a step-by-step guide, I started with nasal swab and saliva test kits.
The process is similar to the at-home antigen tests we’ve all been doing for months: pull the sample, push it into the collector, shake it…you know.
Except that the new aptitude test includes a small, reusable black box reader into which you insert a sensor that holds your sample kit and gives results within 30 minutes.
A solid green line means negative – COVID-19 is not detected; Solid red indicates the presence of the COVID-19 virus; and pure purple means the test is invalid – return to the drawing board with a new test.
I think I will give myself a grade of B for my skills in the test. In the nose test, I forgot to remove the black plastic cap from the base of the collector so it wouldn’t stick to the sensor. duh! And on the saliva test, it took a few tries before I hit the sensor hard enough into the reader to avoid an error message.
The third time, or perhaps the fourth, was magic.
Both tests showed that COVID-19 was undetected. Whew!
The most difficult part of the entire experiment was producing enough saliva to fill a test tube that could be used as a comparison sample.
Hoping to make me salivate, the friendly healthcare professional who was administering the test kept asking me to think of my favorite food (apple pie, filled with hot cinnamon and sugar… Yum-O!).
When that didn’t work, I brought in a lemon-scented candle, which appears to be spit-up stimulant. Who knows?
It also didn’t help that I dropped the test tube at some point and had to start over. In a nod to the professionalism of the proficiency lab technicians, no one held back (at least not as I noticed) when an audible shriek, perhaps an expletive, escaped my lips as saliva slipped from my hands and landed on the carpet. Oops!
In the end, I successfully completed all the required tests and, as promised, I received a $50 Amazon gift voucher, which I quickly used to purchase more KN95 masks.
I headed home very happy with myself, especially after reading some of the information that Proficiency has included in the explanatory material you give to test participants:
“By participating in this study, you are not only helping to combat the ongoing pandemic, but you are also helping us increase access and affordability for testing for everyone,” she says. “In addition, this product will be expanded to include other targets such as influenza, bacteria, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. in the future so that people can access convenient and accurate healthcare in the privacy of their own homes.
“This study is a major step toward achieving this goal and we greatly appreciate your assistance.”
– Marcia Heller is a Noozhawk Copy editor. Call her at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are their own.