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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.