Lileks: What do you do when you run out of COVID tests?

·4 min read

I went to eight chain stores looking for COVID tests, and didn't find any. Not that surprising; the chain was AutoZone.

But hey, you never know. They could have some. The other chains didn't. Walgreens, CVS, Target, Cub, Wendy's, Mattress Firm — everyone was out. Bare shelves. It's a replay of the Hand Sanitizer Panic of 2020, when desperate Americans were begging the president to release the Strategic Purell Reserve.

I took a test last summer at the airport. I don't know if it was a PCR-Antigen-Rapido-Muyfast 46-R or whatever; I do know that the stick they used was only slightly shorter than the ones Egyptian embalmers used to remove the brains of dead Pharaohs before mummification. Now people use the spittle test, apply a jot of ptui-juice to the plastic stick and wait to see if you have one line or two.

It seems low-tech. At this point we should be able to breathe on our phones and get a result, as well as a message that says: "Negative. Also, an Altoids would be appreciated."

I suspect these things are as accurate as the plastic ring compasses you got as a prize in a box of cereal. I've heard many cases of people who were dragged down by some strange fungoo — fatigue, aches, congestion, loss of taste and smell, and the letters COVD appearing in welts on their forehead. But the test comes back negative, over and over.

Yeah, but what about those letters? You say.

"The welts say COVD, not COVID. Could mean something entirely different. Maybe it's the name of a demon."

Demonic possession would be worse than COVID, no?

"I don't know. Get an exorcist, you're good. There's not a lot of talk about long possession. Exorcism is, like, 95% effective."

Well, they say that it wanes after time, and you can be demonically re-inhabited and end up in Hell, and I think that's pretty much the definition of long possession.

"Maybe. All I know is, the tests keep coming back negative, so it's probably an evil spirit."

Are you levitating? Cursing in Latin? Blaspheming in archaic tongues of the Levant? No? I think it's COVID.

(Sigh) "You might be right, but dang, how? I've done everything right! I feel like I failed. Like I made a grave moral error."

And you'd rather it was the unclean spirit of Be'heptomah, Mother of Flies?

"At least people wouldn't think I was, you know, one of them."

The days in which people can freely test over and over again have passed, for a while. There are no more home tests to buy. Ask a clerk when they'll get more, and you may be surprised at the lack of enthusiasm she has for answering the question for the 411th time that day. You go to a website to make an appointment, you get carpal tunnel syndrome clicking the arrow button that advances you to the next month.

There are testing centers, of course, with long lines. I know it might be the only option, but it's like saying, "I might be sick. Best go stand in a line with others in the same condition, and remove all doubt."

We had two home tests in reserve. Daughter used one before attending a holiday social event. I put the other one under a glass dome with a motion detector that would emit a 110db screech, because if anyone tried to use it, I'd want to know why. You can have it only after you prove you can fry an egg on your forehead.

Kidding. Somewhat. My wife wanted to use the test after someone with whom she'd been in sustained proximity tested positive, and I was hesitant. Then we won't have any tests! Well, I guess we'll spit off that bridge when we come to it.

She used it, and the results were negative. Now she can leave the house to play tennis in an N95 mask and pass out from asphyxiation.

Suggestion going forward for the next phase of our interminable neurotic grappling with this thing: They should invent a test in the form of a Butterball Turkey Timer. You know, the thing your Mom stuck in the bird on Thanksgiving. When the turkey's done, a red stick pops out. Everyone wears one of those in their nose, all the time. When it senses infection, it pops out, and you behave accordingly.

My Mom always thought that thing was broken, because it wasn't popping out. Until it did. Maybe it wasn't the most finely calibrated instrument, now that I think of it. I have no idea how many of our turkeys were false positives.

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