Musings about early retirement with no fixed address

Mandatory COVID Testing

In Vietnam’s continuing efforts to stamp out COVID-19 for the second time, they’ve undertaken an ambitious goal to test every single person in Danang. While authorities are still not exactly sure how the initial 100 day infection-free streak ended last month, it’s clear that Danang is the epicenter of the second wave. As temporary Danang residents, that meant that we were required to appear for mandatory COVID testing.

We received a notice from our landlord a couple of days prior. All foreigners were required to submit to testing. There was no cost to us, but we were required to comply. She sent us directions and times. We also received a paper form to fill out with basic contact information like our name, address, and passport numbers. On Tuesday morning, we got up early, put on our masks, and walked a mile to a school courtyard that served as the testing site for all foreigners in our neighborhood.

The school courtyard serving as a temporary testing site

After taking our body temperature, giving us an absolutely massive squirt of hand sanitizer, and ensuring that we had our passports and forms, we were directed to go wait in line on one side of the courtyard. Hundreds of stools were set up in rows underneath the large trees. Waiting areas and lines were regimented to keep people from getting too close together and also to keep them in the shade. And staying in the shade was essential on this day, as it was the hottest day in a while at nearly 100 degrees (38C). 

Our mandatory consent form

We would wait in one area for a bit, then get directed with 5-10 other people to the next waiting spot. After snaking through a few different shaded areas for about an hour, we eventually made it up to the medical personnel. They took our paper forms and exchanged them for a plastic vial and swab.

The front row would move to the next shaded area, then everyone would move up a row

As I moved to the front of the line, I handed my swab to a nurse who had me lower my mask. She then proceeded to jam it up my nose into the very back of my sinus cavity and swirl it around for a bit. It’s enough to make anyone’s eyes water, but overall it’s quick and not too unpleasant. That was step one of our two step testing process. Step two was the blood draw. That’s where things didn’t go quite as smoothly. 

Katie and I both moved to the last station and sat down on stools on the same side of a metal table. There was one technician to take our blood, and Katie went first. The technician had trouble finding the vein in Katie’s arm. After two attempts, another worker was called over to help. This new helper proceeded to jab the needle in, out, up, down, and all around, almost like they were trying to break up a chunk of ice. Finally they gave up and switched to her other arm. Despite the obviously uncomfortable situation of having a needle repeatedly jabbed into her arm, Katie was a good sport about it and the alternate arm proved to be the answer.

The scene of the crime

Unfortunately for me, I was watching them needle her in and out and in and out and I started to feel woozy. Like I am just about to lose consciousness kind of woozy. I don’t know why I watched. From experience, I know I can’t watch anyone stick me, but I didn’t realize it would be a problem on someone else. It was. I’m now about to simultaneously pass out, throw up, and have my own blood drawn. I quickly turn around on my stool and put my head between my knees. I’m trying to draw deep breaths but of course the mask I’m wearing isn’t helping, especially in the scorching tropical heat. I’m feeling terrible, but I have no choice but to suck it up.

Katie gets up from her stool and I’m supposed to take her place. I let her know I’m not doing well and make sure she doesn’t leave. She fans me and helps with instructions from the worker, as I can’t concentrate on anything except breathing. Luckily for me, my vein was cooperative and I wasn’t in the chair long. We made it through, but it was a trying ordeal. I really thought I was going to lose it. I can still picture her getting repeatedly jabbed with that needle and it gives me the heebie jeebies.

Due to my barely surviving, I never got a chance to ask about how the results of the tests would be delivered. The only relevant contact information I gave was a phone number, as email was not asked for. We inquired with our landlord when we returned home and she said that the results would be sent to her and she would let us know. Obviously HIPAA is not a thing here, especially during a global pandemic. I’m assuming we’ll know something in a few days, but I’m doubtful that we have much to worry about. Even though we’re living in the epicenter of this second wave, we’ve been taking every precaution and the total number of cases is still extremely low. (Update – it took three days to get our negative test results.)

As of this writing, there have only been a little over 1000 confirmed cases in the whole country of 100 million people since the pandemic began. 402 of those are currently active. And as you can tell from our experience, the low number is not from a lack of testing. Compared to nearly every other place in the world (like the US which just hit 6,000,000), these infection numbers are minuscule. However, the government is understandably worried that it could quickly spiral out of control, as has been the experience in many other countries.

On one hand, I understand the abundance of caution. On the other, I’m just not sure how they are going to test a million people in a time frame that would provide relevant data. Our testing took about an hour and I would estimate that there were around 300 people there with us. 300 people an hour for 8 hours is 2400 people a day. Even if there are 20 sites around town (which I doubt), it would still take 21 days to test all 1,000,000 people in Danang. Considering how susceptible all of us are to contracting COVID-19 due to no previous immunity, I’d have to imagine that a negative test from three weeks prior is pretty much worthless.

The overflow area. At least it’s shaded.

The fact that they singled out all foreigners for a test at the same time also seems odd, but I assume it’s harder to keep track of us. If they really believe that testing everyone has value, ensuring that all foreigners get tested is probably a difficult task without having us all together. From my perspective, at least the government knows we’re willing to comply with official orders, so that should help our case moving forward as our visa expires in one month and we are technically out of visa renewal options. Nevertheless, I fully expect that those visa rules will be waived since borders remain closed. And judging from the full scale reaction to this Coronavirus second wave, I don’t expect them to be opening anytime soon.

In the meantime, we are still on lockdown. We’re into our fourth week of staying inside. We’re allowed to go to the grocery store or pharmacy once every three days, but otherwise we’re not supposed to leave our apartment. Hopefully this mass testing will convince the powers that be that it’s okay to relax the lockdown requirements. I’d really like to be able to go outside again, so if it’s this testing that allows that, then I’m all for it.

18 Comments

  1. Tara Red

    Thank you for documenting this experience in real-time for your readers! I imagine that if I had been living nomadically when the pandemic started, I would have opted to stay where I was vs coming home to the US. Reading your missives helps me imagine how a similar decision might have panned out! Wishing you continued health and safety.

    • Eric

      Thanks Tara. Best wishes to you as well.

  2. Skip

    Sheesh. I have a feeling your description of Katie’s assault with the needle was somewhat exaggerated considering your phobia… LOL. Still doesn’t sound pleasant. I’m more concerned with the swab getting jammed up into my sinus cavity. There was no choice for a throat swab?

    Anyway, good to hear from you and glad you are both healthy.

    • Eric

      I’m not sure we had much of a choice in anything, but I did see some people getting the throat swab in another line. I noticed because of all the coughing and gagging. Pretty sure the nasal one is better. 🙂

  3. Lynne

    If only the US had been more strict about lockdown and testing early enough, we might not have been in the pickle we are now. We certainly didn’t have enough tests but politicians were certainly a hindrance to getting ramped up with ANY action at all.

    • Eric

      It’s certainly a frustrating situation. That vaccine can’t come fast enough!

  4. Collette

    I’m so glad you guys are safe! On behalf of all compassionate healthcare workers, I sincerely apologize for the needle experience. Some people will seek a vein like a cat with a mouse in sight when they’ve got a needle in their hand. Katie’s experience is exactly why I don’t do that to people. And the covid swabs… also unpleasant since they have to go past the bones in your nose & the swabs themselves are extra fluffy. I’m proud of you guys for powering through it all & continuing your retirement adventures! Thanks for keeping us posted. Stay safe!

    • Eric

      Thanks Collette. I hope you stay safe as well. I’m sure it’s still pretty hectic for you. Hang in there.

  5. Paula

    It’s interesting to read how other countries are keeping the virus under control. Americans are rebellious to any mandates, therefore, they resist wearing their masks. In local small stores Doug and I can be the only ones in the store wearing masks. Makes me angry they can’t comply for the common good guidelines. So divided on everything in America. It’s stressful. Take care and keep writing about your experiences.

    • Eric

      That saddest part to me is the selfishness. We all know masks aren’t fun to wear. But refusing to sacrifice a little bit of comfort in order to keep your neighbors from dying is unfathomable to me.

  6. Mr. Nomad Numbers

    Hi Eric. Thanks for sharing your experience. This is quite informative and I hope you guys will be both negative!

    I am wishing that the lockdown for you guys in DaNang to be lifted soon. I’m not sure if we would have stayed that long in Vietnam with such a long lockdown. Hopefully you guys can return a more normal life is these not really normal times! And don’t forget you can join us in Taiwan if you prefer better pasture 🙂

    • Eric

      We just got the negative results back. Apparently, all other foreigners tested that day also came back negative as well. That bodes well for a relaxing of restrictions very soon.

  7. Glenda lehman

    Eric and Katie way to go, you have been so brave despite the needle ordeal. It is interesting to see how other countries are handling the Covid. Most are cautious and trying to keep the country going. Not an easy task with so many unknowns.
    I have a feeling you will be glad to move on and start checking out many new countries. Be safe and stay well.

    • Eric

      Hi Glenda,
      Yeah, we’ve been ready to move on for a while, but of course, this year isn’t really cooperating for what anyone wants. 🙂

  8. Carol Robinson

    Eric, I am glad you and Katie are well. I enjoy reading of your adventures— sorry they are not all pleasant for you. I am wishing you well.

    • Eric

      Thanks Carol!

  9. Eric Courage

    Keep the faith Eric. Really glad you and Katie are doing well. That’s tricky when anyone is being treated not so good. Especially when it’s our spouse, and we have to look on and not say a dang thing.

    • Eric

      And now I know for the next time that I’m definitely not supposed to look on, so no risk of me saying anything from here on out. lol

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