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Is the swab test painful? Not for me!

01 September 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

The long sticks used to swab one's nostrils and throat with to get specimen samples (photo by Baby Jean de Leon)  

Is swabbing painful? This is what many in the community are asking as Hong Kong launched today, Sept 1, its voluntary mass testing program for the novel coronavirus among the city’s 7.5 million population.

Many in the Filipino community fear the nucleic acid test, or simply “swab test”, is painful, especially if they rely only on the social media chatter of those who merely exchange second-hand information.

Pindutin para sa detalye!

I had no idea what the sensation was like until I submitted to the test this morning at North Point Government Primary School in Quarry Bay, where I went after a futile search of the testing site at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground in Saikung District.

Volunteers waited to usher in swab test participants at the North Point  Primary School
The test is meant to find the “silent carriers” of Covid-19, isolate and treat them before they can spread the virus.

There was no queue at all when I arrived in Quarry Bay at about 10:30am, despite reports that said the number of those who registered for the government’s Universal Community Testing Program had reached more than 500,000.

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The testing site is near Exit A of the Quarry Bay MTR Station, so it was easy to find.
Three volunteers at the entrance eagerly met me as I approached them and introduced myself. I asked them if many people had come for the test, but they said just a few and offered to have me swabbed.

But at a nearby community centre, people had to line up to get tested (RTHK photo)
I was scheduled for the Sept 5, 1pm slot, but they said no problem and escorted me to the ground-floor public hall of the school where there were about 8 desks, each manned by two volunteers in full protective gear who eagerly awaited clients.

First, my identity was checked and my reservation verified at a protected counter. Then I was given a test tube to hand to the medical volunteers who would swab me.
A female medic asked me to take off my mask. Then she took out a 3-inch cotton bud and inserted it in my nasal passages, twirling it for about 10 seconds each time, as she gathered specimen that she put in the test tube.

Next, she told me to open my mouth and say “ahhh,” then she spun a 6-inch cotton bud in my throat. After that, she transferred the bud to the tube then dumped the stick in a bin. The test was over in less than 5 minutes.
Was it painful? Honestly, I didn’t feel any pain at all, just a slight tickle that almost triggered a sneeze. But then, not all people have the same level of pain threshold and not everyone who carries out the test would probably do it as gently.

After the test, the volunteer said I would get the result on my phone in a day.

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