July 12

Quarantine in Korea, Day 3 Diary: Coronavirus test

Quarantine in Korea, Day 3 Diary: Coronavirus test

Before coming to Korea, I was well aware that visitors without a long-term residence permit and address had to quarantine at government-regulated facilities for 14 days. We have to quarantine under strict observation, and we aren’t allowed to leave our rooms to go to the lobby, wander the halls, or anything. (Makes sense, right–it’s a quarantine–but apparently it doesn’t always make sense to some Americans…)

I was also aware that I would have to get tested for coronavirus and aware of what the test was supposedly like.

Looks fun, right? Photo by Raimond Spekking, shared with Wikimedia license.

The swab goes about five inches up your nose into the nose-mouth cavity and spins around.

There’s also the throat swab samples, which are easier to collect and less uncomfortable.

Good news: Korea does both!

There is uncertainty, but some scientists say throat samples are less effective at detection because they contain less RNA and they only show the presence of the virus in the first week. Since Korea has created such an effective testing regime they do both tests to be sure.

Outside the quarantine hotel, where they do the tests and give visitors their papers.

Having heard the coronavirus nasal test been described as “surprisingly painful,” “very irritating,” “uncomfortable,” and squirm-inducing, you might think I wasn’t looking forward to it. I wasn’t.

But at the same time, I was kind glad I could finally get tested. Yes, go to a foreign country to get tested!

Now, I haven’t been taking too extreme risks. Certainly I’ve been a lot safer than many Americans who have been going to Memorial Day parties, protests and political rallies, and bars over the past few weeks. But, still, I did meet friends and brothers a few times in small groups. It might have been nice to know whether I had contracted the virus before or after such events, even if I did not have symptoms.

Yes, yes, I know, America has had the most tests, according to our president, which means that, for much of the time he was spouting that line, we were in the top 10 numbers for number of tests per capita. By now, the latest numbers of Johns Hopkins’ “International Comparison” page show the U.S. surpassing Iceland for the top spot, but our test positivity rate is 6.2%, compared to 2.6% in Iceland.

And test positivity rates are skyrocketing in states like Arizona (27% positive), Arkansa (12%), Florida (19%), Georgia (14%), and Mississippi (18%). According to the WHO, anything above 5% is problem territory, and more tests are needed to catch all the actual cases.

As JHU says, population measures are not the correct way to measure: “testing programs should be scaled to the size of their epidemic, not the size of the population.”

If the tests are only available to people who show symptoms, as was the case in many states for a long time, then asymptomatic people will continue unknowingly spreading coronavirus. And if the tests and facilities are too difficult or inconvenient for people to seek out, then they are not very useful either.

Korea made testing easy early on with its widespread facilities available to everyone and drive-in testing. If its average daily testing number has now fallen behind most other countries, that is only because its test positivity rate is just 1%, suggesting they are catching the vast majority of the cases.

So how painful was the test? Well, it was certainly uncomfortable. But it wasn’t painful. It did not hurt as if I had been hit, and there was not lasting pain.

It was more like an intense sensation of the need to sneeze. Or–and I thought of this in the bathroom–it was most comparable to the feeling you experience when you get a little bit of shampoo up your nose.

The feeling lingered to some degree for about 10 minutes.

What are my results? The computer voice on the in-room speaker announced today that we will be notified in the coming days if we tested positive. If we didn’t, then we will know implicitly when we are not notified.

Watch the review of my flight from Seattle to Seoul on Asiana Airlines:

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About the Author

Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and vlogger who has covered coronavirus in China, the impeachment of Park Geun-hye in Korea, and the Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong, among other things. He has been published in the South China Morning Post, USA Today, the Korea Times, The National Interest, The Daily Beast, and many other newspapers and websites. He blogs about his travels at AsitaTravelWriter.com. *********************************************************************************** Follow him on Facebook: Facebook - Mitchell Blatt, Asia Travel Writer************* Follow him on Twitter: Twitter - @MitchBlatt*************************************** Follow him on Instagram: Instagram - @MitchBlatt********************************** Subscribe to his videos on YouTube: YouTube

Mitchell Blatt

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