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Kika Meraz is an educator and activist. In this piece, she shares her experience getting tested for COVID-19 on Milwaukee’s South Side.
When I learned that the Wisconsin National Guard set up two COVID-19 testing sites on the North and South sides of Milwaukee, I felt slightly torn about getting tested.
Since March, the message to the general public has been that people will only be tested if they present severe symptoms, yet several people I know still had difficulty accessing testing when they did. This, combined with limited personal protective equipment for medical workers, left me resigned to the idea that my only protection was to social distance.
My husband, Eric, and I decided to get tested for COVID-19 on Thursday, May 14, after driving past the testing site the day before. We did not have any symptoms and had been practicing social distancing for two months at that point, but we still wanted to be certain of our status.
What if both of us were asymptomatic and were spreading the virus when we ran our errands or picked up takeout? I also wanted to set an example for my relatives, friends and students. Getting that cotton swab up your nose is not a good look, but I was definitely going to film it to show my family and students that if I can do it, they can, too.
When we drove into the South Side testing site, the line reached from one end of the UMOS parking lot to the other. Thankfully, we only waited about 30 minutes before being directed to one of six shorter lines that led into two white tents. As we waited, I felt relieved that the South Side would finally have access to free testing, especially because the 53215 ZIP code has a disproportionately high number of COVID-19 cases.
I was also surprised to see such a long line, given that a corrected and accurate Spanish translation of the announcement for testing was released just one day before.
When we were one car away from being inside the white tent, a man wearing a mask and gloves approached us to explain that he would be filling out forms with our information before we got tested. All we had to provide were our name, date of birth, address, phone number and our ethnicity. ID cards are not asked for or required.
He informed us that we would receive a call within three to five days to inform us of our results and were given two sheets of paper with information on what to do if our tests came back positive. He also encouraged us to spread the word about the availability of free tests because until now, he said, they had not gotten much traffic. That’s when I told him about the issue with the translation of the announcement for this testing site, and that I hoped more outreach would be done to inform the community in other languages as well.
Before pulling my car forward, I asked him if there were interpreters available for any languages, and he indicated that there are Spanish interpreters available, but not enough at the time to be stationed at each line. If you know someone who may need an interpreter, I recommend waving one of the workers down as soon as you can to let them know in advance. Alternatively, folks who do not feel comfortable speaking in English could write their name, address, date of birth and phone number down on a piece of paper, then show that paper to the person writing it down so that they can copy it onto the form.
After that, we were directed to pull our car into the tent by a person in a hazmat suit. All the people conducting the tests (Wisconsin National Guard members, I assume) were wearing hazmat suits. The person attending to me handed me a tissue and instructed me to blow my nose (you can keep the tissue after blowing into it; don’t try to hand it back).
Then, they explained that they would be inserting a swab into each of my nostrils, one at a time. The swab would go about an inch inside, then they would turn it four times, and pull it out. The swabbing process was quick and painless. I mostly felt a tickling sensation inside my nose. My husband sneezed a few times after his test, so it might be a good idea to have some extra tissue on hand just in case you sneeze, too. Once our noses had been swabbed, we drove home.
I posted my whole experience on Instagram and Facebook and received a very positive response. Many people were grateful for an opportunity to see what the testing process was like. Many South Side residents are still not aware that testing is available.
When I talk to family members, they first ask how much it costs, to which I respond that the test is completely free. Their next question tends to be, “Necesitas papeles?” Which means, do you need to have legal residence or citizenship papers to get tested? No — no one asks about legal status and no one asks for any form of identification in order to access testing.
We received our results on the third business day, and thankfully, we both tested negative for COVID-19. Now it’s your turn — please go get your test.
Remember, people can be infected with the virus and show absolutely no symptoms of illness. With all the insecurity and confusion in the world right now, knowing whether or not you have COVID-19 is one thing each of us finally has the ability to know for certain.
Current information on testing sites is as follows: