I Tried It: Rite Aid’s Do-It-Yourself COVID-19 Test
If you've ever wanted to tickle your brain, now is your chance.
As I reflect upon my time here at Philly Mag, I realize I’m the guy who volunteers to do weird stuff. Sometimes painful stuff. Sometimes gross stuff. And sometimes just stuff that seems like it would be fun but then doesn’t work out so well.
When they needed somebody to try a high colonic at some Society Hill spa, yeah, I did it. Who has an intense fear of dentistry and wants to go to a dentist to try to get over it? Yep. Me. Root canal and all. Stinging laser tattoo removal? Sure.
And while other writers were staying in luxe lodges for a Hudson River Valley travel package, I thought it would be just awesome to take my wife and two kids to a “tiny house” in the woods in that area. It was kinda fun — but then the “camping toilet” exploded, sending two days of biological contents spraying all over the cabin’s bathroom. We cut the trip short.
So it was basically my manifest destiny to raise my hand when Rite Aid announced a do-it-yourself COVID-19 test.
Rite Aid came out with its do-it-yourself COVID-19 test in April. This is a viral test, meaning it will tell you if you have the virus. It is not an antibody test. And when Rite Aid first made the announcement, the test was only for those with COVID-19 symptoms. You had to fill out an online questionnaire to determine your eligibility. And I had no symptoms, so I wasn’t eligible.
But just recently, Rite Aid changed its policy. Now, anybody can sign up for the test. And the test is free. There is no charge. So, knowing that people are always asking where and how they can get tested, I signed up. And, public interest aside, it would obviously be good to know if I have COVID-19, even though I feel fine.
I still had to complete an online questionnaire.
In the past 14 days, have you had contact with someone who has confirmed case of Coronavirus (COVID-19)? Count any contact that lasted longer than 15 minutes, closer than 6 feet/1.8 meters away.
Are you 65 years old or older?
You get the idea.
After I e-signed a consent form, I was able to pick a location for the Rite Aid do-it-yourself COVID-19 test and schedule an appointment.
Here are all of the locations in the Philly region:
2401 East Venango Street, Philadelphia
9773 Roosevelt Boulevard, Philadelphia
6731 Woodland Avenue, Philadelphia
7401 Ogontz Avenue, Philadelphia
1856 North Broad Street, Lansdale
762 Chester Pike, Prospect Park
Naturally, because Woodland Avenue in Southwest Philly is home to so many great Jamaican restaurants and as the Rite Aid there had a lunchtime appointment available, I picked Woodland Avenue.
I showed up a little early and wasn’t quite sure where to go. There was supposed to be signage. There wasn’t. So I pulled up to the drive-thru pharmacy window to ask them. Turned out that the window was exactly the right place for me to be.
The pharmacy assistant asked for my driver’s license to verify my identity and time slot. I passed it to her via drawer. And we chatted over a crackly speaker about her recommendations for Jamaican food in the neighborhood. Yada yada yada. She returned my license.
A few minutes later, the pharmacist came to the window. He passed me a long swab (sorry, I forgot to measure it!) that was sealed in plastic packaging. He also gave me a vial containing some type of liquid. Saline, I guess. I asked him what it was, but, again, crackly speaker.
There’s a video that Rite Aid put out that tells you what to expect from their do-it-yourself COVID-19 test. But the video doesn’t really show you what it’s all about.
What you have to do is take that long swab and shove it way up one of your nostrils, as the pharmacist explained to me, the same way that a tech at one of the regular testing facilities would do to you. I looked at that swab and thought, There is no way that I am getting half of this thing up there. I laughed uncomfortably at the mere idea. But then up it started to go.
I pushed and pushed and pushed, suddenly feeling sensations in my sinuses that I never felt before, because I never had anything shoved up that far.
Once half of the swab had disappeared up my nasal canal, the pharmacist instructed me to spin it around between my fingers a few times to be sure that the end was getting lots of contact with whatever the hell is up there. Then he told me that I had to leave it up there for 15 seconds. Once the time was up, I ever so gently and slowly removed it. The sensations of removal were uncomfortable and unpleasant in their own way.
I thought I was done. But nooooooo.
It turns out that you have to do the whole thing a second time in your other nostril. And so I did. As I sat there in my car with this swab jammed up the second nostril, I got a bit of an audience when some young boys playing in the Rite Aid parking lot took notice. They had a good laugh.
After I pulled the swab from the second nostril, the pharmacist told me to break the swab in half and put the swabbed half into the vial, with the money end submerged in the liquid. Alas, I couldn’t manage to do this without spilling the liquid into my lap.
“You spilled the whole thing?” asked the pharmacist.
“I’ll have to give you another one,” he said.
“Another swab?!” I asked.
“No, no,” he replied. “Another vial.”
He passed me another vial, and I slid the swab into it, this time without incident. I passed the vial back to him and bid him adieu.
And then I brought Jamaican food home to the family, and we all ate jerk chicken and curried goat while watching a video of me giving myself the COVID-19 test. (No, I am not showing it to you. You’re welcome.) My daughter was totally grossed out. My son was cracking up.
As for my wife, she didn’t have much to say other than that the curried goat was better than the jerk chicken. Well, that and the obvious: “When do you get the results?” (Answer: I should get an email two to five days after the test.)
When all was said and done, I was in and out of that Rite Aid drive-thru in less than 10 minutes. There was no line. And, last time I checked, there seemed to be plenty of available time slots at the various Rite Aid locations in the region. Those are the pros.
On the con side, the only thing I would say is that if you’re a really squeamish person and the idea of having to slide a long swab way up into your sinuses makes you squirm beyond belief, Rite Aid’s do-it-yourself COVID-19 test might not be for you. Like ripping a Band-Aid or surgical tape or sticky electrodes off of an area of your body that’s got a bunch of hair on it, sometimes it’s just easier and less psychologically traumatizing to have somebody else do it for you.