If you’ve been dreading that long cotton swab up your nose, I have some good news: There is now an easier way to get tested for COVID-19 in Berkeley.
After a successful two-day trial run in late July where 500 people were tested, the city of Berkeley is partnering with the company Curative to offer “oral-fluid” tests that turn around results within 24 to 48 hours. Instead of having a swab stuck high into a nostril, this test is completely self-serve. You cough three times and then run a swab inside your mouth for 20 seconds.
I made an appointment online for Saturday. The bright blue Curative kiosk with its chirpy signage (“Hey there Berkeley Get Tested!”) is set up in the parking lot of the Berkeley Adult School at 1701 San Pablo Ave. I got there on time. There was plenty of parking. I had already reviewed the video on how to do the test the company had sent. So, I got in line and within 10 minutes I was done. (I had to wait for two people ahead of me.)
There is no contact with anyone during the procedure, making it feel apt for our times. There is a Curative employee dressed in a lab coat, gloves, mask and face shield directing people where to go. Otherwise, the testers stand inside the booth and talk to customers through a window.
The woman helping me raised a screen and indicated that I should pick up a swab that was sticking out of a slot. I swirled it around making sure to run it along the inside of my cheeks, on my tongue and in the back of my mouth. Then I unscrewed the top of a small plastic vial and inserted my swab. That was it.
I got my results at 3:48 a.m. Monday, approximately 38 hours after the test. (It was negative.) This turn-around time is much faster than the two weeks many Berkeley residents had to wait in late July after getting tested at the state of California site at 1730 Oregon St., or the city of Berkeley site at 1900 Sixth St.
The self-serve kiosk in Berkeley is the first of its kind in the U.S., although Curative provides testing at drive-through locations in Texas, Delaware, Chicago and Los Angeles and will be setting up kiosks at some of those locations soon. This simple test is enough of a novelty that NBC Bay Area filmed Mayor Jesse Arreguín when he got his test on Saturday. A sign at the testing site said the company had administered 1 million tests.
Curative Inc. is less than six months old. Fred Turner and Dr. Isaac Turner co-founded the company in January to develop tests for sepsis but pivoted to testing for COVID-19 in early March, according to a company spokesperson.
If you wonder whether the oral-fluid tests are as accurate as those that swab way inside your nostrils, (known as a nasopharyngeal or NP test) the Centers for Disease Control believes they are. In late April, the CDC removed its preference for the NP test. The FDA granted emergency approval for oral-fluid tests that month as well. The Yale School of Public Health did a comparative study and concluded the oral fluid test was “preferable.” The study, however, has not been subjected to peer review.
Curative’s kiosk will be open through Friday, Aug. 14. There are still appointments available for Thursday and Friday, according to a city of Berkeley tweet.
There is no upfront cost or copays required to get tested. Curative will bill people’s private insurance companies as well as Medical and Medicare.
Sign up here to make an appointment to get tested at the Curative kiosk.