I got Quest's new COVID-19 antibody test and it was strange

Last week, Quest Diagnostics announced a new direct-to-consumer test for coronavirus antibodies. So I tried it.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

More testing is exactly what is needed.

Sometimes, I'm not alone with my thoughts.

Many people -- some of whom I know -- are convinced they've already had coronavirus. On the West Coast, there are rumors the virus arrived much earlier than first thought

And, yes, at the end of last year, I caught a bug that demonstrated some of the symptoms and lasted two weeks. Since then, of course, I've been convinced it was COVID-19, while my wife -- a scientist -- has snorted elegantly, but derisively.

Last week, Quest Diagnostics declared its antibody tests were now available to anyone. As I am truly anyone, I thought I'd try it. After all, if there's one thing that our nation hasn't quite prioritized or perfected during this crisis, it's the need for as much testing as possible.

We're now just pieces of software, after all. Test it, test it, test it.

What transpired with this Quest experience was a little strange. And a model of the life that is to come.

First, I went online to GetQuestTest and made an appointment. All I had to do to secure one was to answer several simple questions about my identity and current health.

Somehow, there are several Quest Diagnostics centers not too far from my house. Some had appointments for the same day. Others, the next day. I made an appointment at the closest one.

You have to pay upfront, naturally. Your health is a business in the US, a little like everything else. As soon as your credit card clears, you get an email confirming your appointment and containing a QR code. 

I arrived slightly early and was met by no friendly receptionist whatsoever. The waiting area was completely empty. There was no evidence a receptionist had ever even had lunch there.

This really was the future, and I'm not sure I liked it. I enjoy a little warm reassurance any time I'm doing something medical, don't you?

Here, there was just a screen, not dissimilar to those at airports that photograph your face and compare it to your passport photo.

At Quest, you hold up your phone, display your QR code on the screen, and ping, you're checked in.

I sat down. No other customers were in the waiting room. All was a little eerie. Until, that is, I heard two female voices chatting and laughing.

Yet I couldn't see them. So the whole thing bordered on the slightly macabre, as I sat in this apparently deserted room, yet could hear faraway giggles.

At exactly the minute of my appointment, a phlebotomist emerged in full protective clothing. She took me to her quarters, sat me down, found a suitable vein, prepared her needle, and forgot to tell me she was going straight in.

I'm not (excessively) squeamish, so I was amused at the nurse's "oops, sorry" as I uttered a mild ow. Perhaps she was a junior phlebotomist.

Quest had warned there might be an examination of my temperature. That didn't happen. Nor were any questions asked about my health. It was in and out. Testing as fast food.

This was the efficiency of the new world, I feared, one in which we robotically and regularly examine the minutiae of our innards, with a view to knowing them better and sometimes fearing the worst.

At least the phlebotomist and I managed to chat about my silly name, my reason for getting the test, and whether it was possible to stay sane in the current circumstances. We concluded it wasn't.

The whole process was absurdly smooth. Perhaps for $129 it should be.

I couldn't help, though, consider the simple ways in which it bypassed at least some of what had occurred in the past.

Just as with One Medical's primary care system -- in which Alphabet is invested -- you go online instead of calling, and you make an appointment. Yet here, you're greeted by no one in the waiting area and the human contact is reduced to an absolute minimum.

Tech wins again.

But what about the results, I hear you groan. The phlebotomist promised them within 24 to 48 hours.

Forty-eight hours went by. No results. On the third day, however, an email telling me the answer was ready. I went to the Quest site and clicked on the verdict, with my wife peering at it over my shoulder.

She instantly snorted. This time, less than elegantly, I thought.

She's always right about this sort of thing.

Innovative projects now online to combat coronavirus outbreak

Editorial standards