My testing time at the Amex drive-through

Like a scene out of dystopian fiction, masked people direct drivers through the coronavirus testing centre at the Amex Community Stadium.

Read the instructions on the signs. Do not open your windows.

As a public-service journalist, I am a key worker so I could book myself in for a test on Wednesday morning to see if my sore throat, headache, earache and cough are anything more than a spring cold.

I had a weak signal on my phone, which caused issues to start with as I had to wait for my appointment code webpage to load up to confirm my place.

After a steward asked me “Have you got your data on love?” and I resisted the urge to give him the hard stare usually on offer as these are hard times and everyone is doing the best they can.

I ended up texting the information through.

He had a print out with the details, so it seems this is not a one-off situation on the edge of Falmer.

Queues seem long at the Covid-19 test centre because cars are bigger than people.

That said, it took 45 minutes to reach the testers and receive a kit due to the large number of cars waiting their turn.

The very young test kit distributors, I assume medical students or recent grads, ask you to call a mobile number and give you instructions over the phone.

They are masked, gloved and wearing plastic aprons. Not the hazard suits of Outbreak or Contagion, but still sobering.

I opened my car window was just enough to put the test through once they were satisfied I knew what to do.

They ask if you have hand sanitiser and tissue as they want you to cleanse before putting the test in the biohazard bag.

As I haven’t seen sanitiser in the shops since February, I don’t have any.

At home, we’re on a regular hand-washing schedule, and I’m running low on hand cream.

You don’t complete the test in front of these people, but drive on, park up and deal with the swab once a steward is certain you’re okay.

It is not pleasant. Rub the swab around the back of your throat then shove it up your nose.

Once this is complete, it took another 45 minutes in the car to queue up and hand the test over.

When I say hand over, I mean push it through a crack in the car window into a plastic box.

I felt sorry for the testers and stewards waiting in the rain as one by one the cars pass by.

Pollution levels must be pretty bad due to all the idling vehicles.

But it was efficient as it could be in a drive-through situation.

These always strike me as time-consuming and inefficient anyway so I don’t use them even when my husband and child desire burgers and fries.

It is frustrating for people who don’t have cars because it is not possible to test and maintain social distance. Different ways of accessing testing is arranged by GPs for these patients.

The test results might be back in two days, or five. I just hope I did it right.

  1. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    Jolly good.

    There should be comma after “on” otherwise “data on love” because, as it is, this sounds like startling revelations are part of the testing.

    • Sarah Booker-Lewis Reply

      I resist commas for short sentences, but yes it belongs.

  2. Daz Reply

    Terrible article, why are you slating these people who are working during difficult times? So why if they are volunteers, grads etc? got no hand sanitiser? Well Tesco, Asda, Morrison’s and plenty of convenience stores have plenty in stock, obviously too lazy to get some, and reporters aren’t key workers coz are you helping to fight the virus? Are you helping get people to and from work by bus or train?

    • Jean Reply

      How is it slating anyone? Plus, if the writer has had symptoms, presumably she would have stayed away from the shops. That’s not being too lazy to go out and buy hand sanitiser.

    • Sarah Booker-Lewis Reply

      Hi Daz, I’m not sure why you think I’m slating people. I really feel for them and think they’re doing a terrific job. I worry for young volunteers and graduates.

      I made the point about hand sanitiser because I didn’t expect to need it and thought people going for a test need to know.

      I don’t buy it because I leave it for those who do need it. Soap is enough for us.

      Public service journalists are key workers. We’re on the list. We may not be front line but we are keeping people informed. Thank you.

    • Rolivan Reply

      If you have to go to Hospital A&E the waiting time would be longer than your experience so I do not see the problem.
      Perhaps my idea of a Coach Station and Park and ride at tge Amex isn’t such a bad idea after all.

    • Kevin Fuller Reply

      Just had test done and on way home. Straightforward easy instructions helpful staff 15 minutes. They do pass kits through slightly open window for their safety. No queues today. Mildly uncomfortable but that is to be expected putting swabs in throat and nose. Not as bad as I was expecting.

  3. Berenice Mccall Reply

    I went at 8 30 yesterday morning , got through almost immediately. All staff pleasant and friendly and couldn’t be more helpful . Why would staff posting a test kit through a 2inch slot in your window require haz chem outfits or anymore than the PPE we are all wearing to care for positive patients ? Masks/ gloves/ aprons
    Test unpleasant to self administer but I’ve had worse medical procedures. This really is journalism at its worst – rather than writing a positive piece about how efficient it is and reassuring the public who may need to attend for testing that’s it’s no big deal, you have resorted to scaremongering purely for effect. Your editor needs to have a word with you.

    • Sarah Booker-Lewis Reply

      Hi Berenice, I thought this was an informative piece about the experience without any form of scare mongering.

  4. Paul Rix Reply

    Thank you for this honest account of something the rest of us will hopeful never go through. I wish you a swift recovery whether it’s COVID or something less dramatic.
    BTW Ignore the comments. Most people understand journalists are key workers and we appreciate the valuable work you do getting news out in testing times (no pun intended!)

    • Sarah Booker-Lewis Reply

      Thank you Paul. I hope I have a cold, too. I will be getting in touch as you have a decision.

      • Ray Reply

        Thanks for writing this as it has helped me understand more what it will be like when I go down later this week

  5. jess hartley Reply

    Paul’s right. Ignore the moaners. It’s good to read a straightforward account of what the procedure is. I hope I don’t need to go, but if I do, it’s useful to know how it might take longer than the drive-thru at McDonald’s. I’m pleased for Berenice for having a quicker experience. Surely, though, no one expects it to be an unalloyed delight.

    • Sarah Booker-Lewis Reply

      Thank you Jess. A friend of mine who went through on Sunday said it also took 90 minutes. The queue was even longer when I left yesterday. I’ve also discovered for many users the mobile phone signal at Falmer is quite weak.

  6. ChrisC Reply

    Comparing part of the process to getting a burger and fries?.


    I suppose you were tying to lighten the piece with some humour. In which case you failed – badly..

    • Lou Reply

      It is exactly like a drive-thru up there. Seems like you are trying your hardest to be offended.

      • ChrisC Reply

        I’m only offended by the awful report she wrote and people who try and justify such awful writing.

  7. Lou Reply

    I found the article accurate having been up there yesterday and the tone neutral. I can’t fathom what all the negativity is about in the comments.

  8. John Cornwall Reply

    Had appointment at 8am Wed
    It was excellent. The young staff were very polite and it took 30 Minutes to get done.
    Engine’s were Not running all the time. You were told to turn off at every point. Well done to all involved.

    • Kayla Hotz Reply

      Trying to get an appointment, how did you manage to book an appointment?
      Please help!

  9. Dom Mason Reply

    Thank you for the informative and intelligent article written from a human point of view.

    Get well soon and bring on the Pulitzer!!

    I am also a hidden key worker and it is not my list, I am just on it. There’s plenty of capacity for us all, but obviously health workers should be testing on site via a separate mechanism with absolute results ASAP, not have to drive in the poor buggers!

  10. Russ Reply

    Oh no!!! It seems that now the Argus requires registration the keyboard warriors from there are migrating here. GO AWAY! This is a forum for people who actually want to exchange views not simply rile people up.

    • Sam Reply

      Can anyone who has been tested confirm how long before they got their results..?

      • Paula Reply

        i was tested at 7pm last tuesday results arrived at 6am thursday

      • Sarah Booker-Lewis Reply

        Tested Wednesday, results back on Friday

  11. Stephen Reply

    Iv had the test came back negative are all these people showing symptom because on the news one says thay cant tell if you have had it.and another says thay are to see if you have had it so what do people believe.

  12. Sean Reply

    I found the system absolutely fine and all the staff there brilliant

    Many thanks to them all

  13. Carol hemsley Reply

    Can anyone tell me if there are toilet facilities there ,I’m an old woman and would not want to queue for long ?

  14. mike smith Reply

    Just had a test done at Amex Stadium and the in and exit gate staff were almost moronic and very unhelpful. Just kept repeating the same thing over and over and over again. She drove me nuts with her incompetence and ‘computer says no’ attitude. How they expect you to hear in a car which is a sound proof metal box with the windows fully closed is beyond me. It was like a Monty Python sketch for stupidity. They all insisted on having the windows fully closed even though masked and standing 6 feet away expecting you to understand instructions. Once inside the only staff who were excellent were the ones taking the actual tests but it was fight to get there through incompetence. Don’t go to Brighton Amex Stadium. We had a previous test completed by the army who were professional, polite, used common sense and completed the process effectively.

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