“I brought a bunch of them back from the UK,” a woman at the July Expat picnic told me. This was the first I’d heard of DIY Covid tests. The concept was–literally–foreign to me. The woman went on to explain that, in order to visit family in the UK, she had to test herself multiple times after arriving. And she had some friends here in Valencia, Spain that wanted to have tests they could administer themselves as needed.
I couldn’t think of any reason I’d need a self-administered Covid test in Spain. La vida en la calle (life in the streets) was in full effect. When Michael and I left our apartment, we spent the next hours mostly outside–having a coffee or menú del dia at a streetside bar, wandering the narrow streets of the old town, biking in the Turia park. We went indoors only to buy food and, as required, donned our masks (like every. single. other. person. I’ve never seen a person indoors without a mask here.).
I heard of the DIY Covid tests a couple more times from British friends but it wasn’t until ten days ago that I saw one in person–and actually had to administer it myself.
Michael and I had jumped through many hoops in order to travel. Covid tests, vaccines, registering said vaccines with the Spanish national health system, procuring our EU Digital Covid Passports.
We traveled first to France, making good use of the QR code granted to us as residents of the EU—the code that tells every airport, restaurant, and tourist site that we are vaccinated.
Next stop: Germany.
Again we showed our QR code, but this was the first place we’d been where, to visit some tourist sites, you not only needed a vaccine (or proof of recent recovery), but you also needed a negative Covid test—one administered in he last 24 hours!
Our host, Christian, at first attempted to make appointments for us. But he attempted to do so after Michael and I went to bed and was hampered because he didn’t have our birth dates or my email address.
“But it looks like we can get a test at the site,” he told us the next morning. “For two Euro fifty.”
He can’t mean two-hundred fifty Euros, I thought. But he can’t mean two Euros and fifty cents.
It turns out, it was the latter.
So we arrived to the tourist site, purchased our DIY tests for the equivalent of three US dollars, and were given a sealed standard-sized envelope. Upon opening it, we were presented instructions (in pictures only) which the three of us worked together to decipher.
“Is it just me, or is there no indication of when you stick the thing up your nose?” I asked. It was true. The instructions omitted the most important part of the whole process. We mutually agreed the up-your-nose part came between steps 2 and 3.
I began with the mise-en-place (a French term used in cooking that means prepping all your ingredients before you begin). I peeled back the plastic from one end of the long Q-tip, delighted that for the first time I get to decide how far this thing goes up my nose. I pulled the indicator out of its package. And then, it was time.
I poured a small plastic vial of liquid into a plastic test tube, holding it upright in one hand while sticking the long-handled Q-tip into my nose with the other. I pulled it out, wondering if I’d gotten enough goo, and then looked over to see Michael twirling his in his nose.
“I didn’t do that!” I said.
“It shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. But I reinserted my Q-tip anyway, just to be sure.
Q-tip goo mixes with liquid in vial, Q-tip is removed, vial is shaken, liquid is poured into the well on the indicator.
Then, we wait.
“You know. . . these things are only 50% accurate,” Christian told us. We laughed at one of the many mysteries of this new world in which we live.
Our indicator, if we were in the clear, was to show just one line. Positive tests showed two lines. Just like a pregnancy test, but, in my opinion, a lot less stressful.
We watched as the white bar slowly changed to pink. And then, bingo!
We approached the ticket counter brandishing our results like schoolchildren eager to show their parents a perfect test score. The ticket seller, in turn, granted us the privilege of buying a ticket.
We had a lot of firsts in Germany. It was my first time visiting that country. My first time having German food in Germany. My first time eating Tête de Moine cheese. My first time seeing the instrument one uses to cut this, and only this, cheese. And now, my first time administering my very own Covid test.