A tale of two covid tests

Church Action on Poverty supporter Naomi Maynard reflects on how the pandemic is exposing and worsening inequality.

Danny's story
Benjie's story

Last week I received a call from nursery, my son Danny had a temperature, I needed to come collect him. This time last year that phone call would have triggered a dose of Calpol and an early night. This year, 10 minutes after receiving the call I logged onto the government website and booked a drive-through Covid test for two hours’ time. It was on the Wirral, about 20 minutes’ drive away.

The next day my husband and I patiently waited for the results, Danny was much better and tearing around the garden. Our older son James filled his time with a mixture of work sent from school and telly as my husband and I juggled working from home.

Later that night my phone pinged – Danny’s result was negative. He hadn’t had a temperature for over 24 hours so the next morning he went back to nursery and James returned to school.

Later that week I heard a very different story from my friend Natalie.

Natalie’s son Benjie is the same age as Danny, they both attend the same nursery. On Saturday morning Benjie had a persistent cough.

Natalie logged onto the government website to book a test. Natalie doesn’t own a car. The nearest walk-in test centre was in south Liverpool, two bus rides away. There were no home tests available. Natalie refreshed the website throughout the day. By Saturday evening a home test became available, Natalie ordered it.

On Monday evening the test arrived. Natalie returned it in the post first thing Tuesday morning. Benjie’s cough eased.

Waiting for the result, Natalie followed government guidelines, staying indoors with Benjie and his older brother Tom. Their home does not have useable outdoor space. Homeschooling Tom was a challenge as he became increasingly frustrated with being stuck inside. By Friday afternoon Natalie was exhausted. She called the testing helpline to chase Benjie’s result. Benjie’s result arrived late Friday night – six and a half days after his first symptoms. It was negative.

Reflecting on the stark differences between our experiences, the key factor is obvious: I own a car and Natalie doesn’t. But the knock-on effects of this are staggering.

Natalie’s son Tom missed a whole week of school, my son James only missed one day. Repeated over the course of this pandemic, that difference will grow exponentially, potentially impacting Tom for years to come.

In her own words, Natalie explains some of the other knock-on effects:

“It was only six days, but it took a real shot at our mental health. There are only so many rooms and so many toys before kids get bored and destructive. Being the sole person to entertain them and do everything was exhausting. After a couple of days I would wake up already depressed, just knowing I had the whole day to get through. That might sound dramatic, but they are energetic kids who are used to going to the park and for walks every day.”

This is Natalie’s second experience of a Covid home test, during both times she has waited six days for the results.

“I hate to say it, but it has made me think I would probably hesitate next time to get a test, and would probably take more risks. I wouldn’t ignore the symptoms but it would make me pause for a minute and think ‘Can I actually do this again?’”

“The longer it goes on the worse it will be for mental health. And those of us who are taking it seriously and trying to do what is right and follow the rules are making sacrifices, we all are. But the sacrifices made are much higher for those like me on low income or the vulnerable. The government needs us to make these sacrifices, so they need to do their part and make sure it is not as painful and as detrimental as it is currently.”

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