He knew before the 15 minutes were up, indeed even before he had so much as swabbed his first nostril. But he didn’t want it to be true.
So even though Kevin Raposo spent the whole time blaming himself and assuming the worst — why did he go to that concert! — when his COVID test turned out to be positive, it still landed as a shock. Frantic, he raced down the stairs of his home in Methuen to his wife.
“Did I do the test right?” Raposo practically shouted, thrusting the test in her face.
“Kevin, both lines are visible. You have COVID!” she said, as he realized he shouldn’t be anywhere near her and fled the living room.
Oh, rapid at-home tests, how much we need you. And how stressful you are, sitting on the kitchen counter or the car’s dashboard, weighing your verdict, tick, tick, tick, delivering grave news in a Barbie pink line.
Fifteen minutes. Not even a whole episode of “The Office.” And yet, a lifetime.
Officials are telling us not to panic. But how can we keep our cool? Omicron is coming through the floorboards. Your sister calls to say your niece is quarantining for the holidays. A friend who hasn’t seen the inside of a restaurant since 2019 feels like she’s been hit by a bus. Your neighbor’s kid in New York City and all of his roommates test positive. Broadway stars. Pro athletes. Senator Elizabeth Warren, and she’s boosted. And Kevin Raposo’s wife, Rose? She’s positive, too.
What about you? Is your throat sore, or are you imagining it?
Rapid tests are what we need, but they are expensive and scarce. They also make us crazy, and over a period of days, they have replaced vaccines and masks as objects of our obsession.
People are texting their group chats with BinaxNOW alerts. “Walgreens has them!” They are gossiping about people who post pictures of negative tests on social media. They are trying to decide if it’s worth burning a test on an upcoming gathering — the sad, coronavirus version of Elaine’s “sponge worthy” judgment on “Seinfeld.”
Twitter is bursting with rapid test humor and rapid test anxiety.
“My rapid test turned positive so quickly it actually felt rude,” @Ariel_Comedy wrote.
“i can’t tell if there’s a faint pink line on my rapid test or not,” @wendyenicolas tweeted. “LIKE IS IT POSITIVE OR NOT?! I DONT HAVE THE EMOTIONAL BANDWIDTH FOR THIS RN.”
All over town, the Swab Chronicles are unfolding:
In a Roslindale house share, one roommate, Akshat Sharma, an immunologist, was still in bed when the e-mail from work arrived on his phone. “[Y]ou have been identified as having come into close contact with an employee who tested positive for COVID-19,” it read.
Nearly overcome with worry — not about his own health, but rather about sickening or severely inconveniencing others — Sharma swabbed his nose, put on a 12-minute piece of classical Indian music that in other circumstances he had found soothing, and tortured himself by imagining himself telling everyone unhappy news.
The test kit sat four feet away, on his desk, and when the time came, to make sure he didn’t miss even the faintest pink line, he used the ring light that he had bought for Zoom, a must-have coronavirus accessory pressed into new service. And it illuminated the happy news that he was negative.
On Route 9, somewhere between Southborough and Framingham, Andrea Giancontieri was driving two friends to the last tap dance class of the year when rapid-onset stomach distress struck. Earlier in the week she had been so fearful that her sniffles weren’t her usual allergies that she took a COVID test. It came back negative, but the news was so full of people testing negative one day and positive the next that she began to worry anew.
She told her friends. Masks went on and windows went down. A decision was made to turn around, and the car drove on in silence.
Back home, as the timer dragged, her thoughts raced:
Two strangers — friends of a friend — had briefly been in her house. Maybe she’d caught it from them. Or maybe it was the friend who’d stopped by, unaware that Giancontieri had canceled her annual Yankee swap. Perhaps she was an asymptomatic carrier. OH MY GOD, she had been to her regular Saturday morning breakfast with one person who is a cancer survivor, another who is in his 70s. What if she passed it on to one of them???
Giancontieri was veering into irrational territory and she knew it. She tried to distract herself by sorting laundry, but it wasn’t working. She thought about the recent wild spike in cases, and she took her temperature.
And then, determined to deal with whatever might come, she walked into the bathroom to check the test results ... and got good news.
But these days, even the rush of relief from a negative home test can be replaced by remorse for having used up a valuable resource.
“I only have one box of tests left,” Giancontieri said.
Beth Teitell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.