What’s involved in getting a COVID-19 test?

Here’s what to expect if you feel unwell and need to get a COVID-19 test.

Cases of COVID-19 have climbed on Vancouver Island in recent weeks, and so has the rate of testing. Many days, more than 1,000 new tests are performed here. The province recommends that anyone with cold- or flu-like symptoms get tested.

What should you expect if you need to get tested? Last month two of The Discourse’s reporters went in for a test: Shalu Mehta and I. We want to share our experiences as well as other resources that we hope will help others through this process. 

Our testing experiences

Here’s what Shalu had to say:

“I was pretty nervous about getting a COVID-19 test given the many videos I’ve seen online of people getting theirs done. But honestly, it wasn’t that bad. I had a bit of a cold – cough, runny nose, weakness – and phoned Island Health’s call centre to get a test since my symptoms crossed over with COVID-19 symptoms.

I was asked to leave a callback number and received a call about two hours later to book an appointment. The closest testing site to me was the drive-thru site at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre and I was given an appointment time of 3:30 p.m. the next day; a Saturday. I was instructed to self-isolate until a negative test result was received. The drive-through test took about 30 minutes total, including waiting time, and was really quick and painless.

The people at the site were very professional, kind and understanding. Of course, the actual swab was a little uncomfortable, but it only lasted 10 seconds and then I was on my way again. I subscribed to receive my results by text message and less than 24 hours later, I was notified of my negative results. All-in-all, it wasn’t a terrible experience and I feel very fortunate to be healthy and safe.”

My experience was similar in some ways. I had been experiencing symptoms that felt like allergies or a cold. I felt pretty sure it wasn’t COVID-19, but called 811 in any case. The person who took my call ran off a long list of symptoms and I only said “yes” to runny nose and stuffy nose. Somewhat to my surprise, they recommended a COVID-19 test.

I called the hotline to book a test and waited three days for the appointment. I got tested at the Cowichan District Hospital’s drive-through facility. I was in and out very quickly, maybe in fewer than 10 minutes. I was surprised to actually get a phone call with negative results the next morning, although I had signed up to get results online. 

If the nasal swab makes you nervous, good news: Island Health testing facilities now offer the option of a gargle test instead. 

What if I can’t drive to my COVID-19 test?

The B.C. government asks that those waiting for COVID-19 test results avoid public transportation, including buses and taxis. 

It’s unclear how those who can’t drive or otherwise transport themselves to their appointment are expected to get there. 

A spokesperson for Island Health, after multiple email enquiries, said in an email that issues around transportation can be discussed at the time a person makes their appointment.

Will I have to self-isolate?

Anyone with symptoms that might indicate COVID-19 is expected to self-isolate. You can end self-isolation if you test negative and feel better, but should continue if you still have symptoms.

If you test positive or have been in close contact with someone who has, a public health team will enroll you in a program to help you self isolate and monitor your symptoms. Monitoring can be done by telephone or online. 

The Government of Canada has financial benefits available for those who lose income because of the need to self-isolate or take care of someone else who is self-isolating. 


  • Here’s the link for Island Health information on symptoms and testing, including how to book a test and the location of test centres. 
  • Here’s more information on self-isolation.
  • For health-related information and advice, you can call HealthLink BC at 811. For non-medical information about COVID-19, call 1-888-268-4319. [end]

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