So the boys went back to school the first Wednesday of September 2020.
On the first Monday of September 2020, 6 days later after just 4 days in school, amounting to 29 hours including their breakfast and afterschool clubs, large boy spiked a 39.4°C temperature and they were both sent home.
Booking a test
After picking him up, we dosed him with calpol as his immediate wellbeing needed improving first. He was very warm and a quick inspection revealed a very red throat to match my own sore one.
Then I logged onto the NHS website, followed the link through to YouGov and filled in the first few steps of a form. Only tobe greeted with: “This service is currently unavailable, please try again in a few hours.”
Trying to book a test isn’t so simple. I tried Amazon as they’re partnered with the NHS to provide home test kits, only to be directed back to the same YouGov site.
Flabbergasted, I called our GP and luckily got the receptionist who I know. She didn’t have any other suggestions apart from trying 119 for the support line – which explained in a recorded message that the current allocation of home tests was assigned and no more were available.
Back to the website and refreshing as often as I could. Large boy perked up a lot, having been very pale and withdrawn when I picked him up from school. Even though we were fairly sure it was his tonsils at this point we knew he needed to be tested. We had no evidence that he didn’t have COVID – a mummy’s instincts don’t count and rightly so.
Eventually, 3 hours later a refresh gave me a new message: 54 slots were available. So I filled in some more forms (4 times so we could all get checked as I had a sore throat and small boy was a bit snotty). By the time I’d dug out our NHS numbers and completed everything it was down to 17 slots. Tap and click through to choose a site and time and our options are all 35 miles away or more. We picked the closest, still over an hour’s drive, and a slot the next morning.
We set off on the drive over to Huddersfield in plenty of time and found the testing site relatively easily. It was actually in Holmfirth at a leisure centre and we arrived ten minute early. It seemed that the 10.30am slot was the first one of the day as the support team were just finishing their briefing.
The staff beckoned each car over in order of arrival and asked us to open the driver’s window slightly. They scanned the appointment cards we’d printed out and provided us with a kit each – labelled with our seat position in the car so we would be able to track who’s was whose. Then we were directed over to a row of parking spaces where the cars parked up staggered at the front or back of the spaces.
Each pack contained a clear bag to seal up when we’d finished, a resealable bag containing an absorbent pad, a vial with some orange liquid and a sterile sealed swab. It seemed a bit odd that they didn’t have different swabs for children and adults, the nostril of a grown up and a five year old is not the same size.
The instructions were really clear and there was plenty of support staff around to advise if we needed it. First we swabbed the back of the throat and tonsils, then up the nose until you could feel resistance – each for 10 seconds. It was easy enough for me and himself. Large boy wasn’t too bad but kept wiggling his tongue. Small boy on the other hand developed some anticipation as we did his last, he yelped as soon as the swab touched the back of his throat and it took three goes to get the 10 seconds of contact. His nose was much worse, he was shrieking before I’d even touched him with it. We got there eventually but there was lots of screaming and tears and sweet-based bribery. And then he sneezed on the swab. Great.
Seriously folks, try sticking a cotton bud up the nose of a 5 year old on purpose – its a cruel and unusual punishment for all involved. I mean sure, they stick bigger things up there that they shouldn’t, but when something relatively soft needs poking around there is so much shouting!
After taking each swab, it was placed in the vial and snapped off so that the lid fitted back on properly.
When we’d collected them all, they each went in the matching sealable bag and one of the support people checked we’d done it right. I wrote on the labels of the original bags who each sample belonged to, so that we could keep track. Once the bags were sealed we drove back over to the gazebo at the entrance, where the bags and appointment QR codes were scanned again so the system knew which sample was for each of us.
That was it. Half and hour of trauma and getting hot and sticky and stressed, but it was done relatively painlessly.
When we handed over our samples we were told it could take between 4 and 48 hours to get the results through. I’d provided email and phone numbers for each booking so the wait by my phone started. I didn’t really expect to get the results the same day, but the next morning I began to hope for a text or email telling us everyone was negative. We were worried that the wriggling screaming boys would mean that the samples weren’t taken properly and couldn’t be analysed so that we’d have to start all over again.
All the next day I was checking every 10 minutes, my phone stayed right next to me all day. Or if I left it, I’d check email and messages immediately just in case I hadn’t heard a ping. But bedtime arrived and there was no notification.
The worry that the results were positive or that the samples were invalid began to mount. I managed to get to sleep eventually, but woke regularly all night hoping for an email or text.
Finally at quarter to six in the morning I tapped my phone and saw there were emails in my inbox – four of them, identical.
A few minutes later I got three text messages and himself got his own.
Just the first such experience I fear. If this was just the first week of school – and I’ve since heard that several other children in the school have needed tests too, at least 2 in large boy’s class – then there are doubtless going to be many other such trips. Each time one of them has a temperature or a cough, we’ll be going through the same procedure.
It seems ridiculous that there aren’t local walk-in testing sites where we could have got a test immediately his temperature was high. There’s talk in the news of a 20 minute test too, which would have been great. One fewer days at home for the boys. For some parents the difference between a 20 minute test on the same day and having to wait a day or two to get tested and another two days for the results is the difference in maybe three or four days of income – that’s huge!
There are also spit tests that have been developed and validated too – wouldn’t that be much better suited to young children?