Lauren Verno shares what it’s like to be tested for COVID-19

News4Jax anchor and reporter says waiting for the results was worse than the actual test

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Our job as journalists is to never become the story, but neither my college professors nor mentors have ever been through a pandemic like this. So here we are.

I want to start off by letting everyone know I tested negative for COVID-19.

This story is not meant to have a surprise ending or a triumphant tale of how I overcame the virus. I’m sharing what I’ve learned over the last few weeks because I wish someone could have done the same for me.

If you are a journalist right now -- whether that means you cover sports, weather or breaking news -- every single person is working on some version of a COVID-19 story. That means we know the symptoms, we know the signs, we are fully aware of what COVID-19 looks like and what can happen if it goes untreated. So there were really only two words to describe how I felt when I noticed I developed a cough, sore throat and body aches last week: pure panic.

I am a young, healthy person, and I had that sobering reminder: I am not invincible.

On the night of Wednesday, April 1, I went to Telescope Health online, put in the promotional code (HERE4YOU) and my appointment was free since I was a Jacksonville resident, and after 10 minutes of waiting, I was on the phone with a doctor.

That was the moment I realized how serious this conversation was.

You see, whenever you imagine talking to your doctor, it’s supposed to be a warm and comforting face meeting you on the other end. The doctor on the other end of this call was in full protective gear. She looked like she was inside a hospital in between patients, with a full gown, N95 mask and shield covering her face.

We went through the list of questions:

  1. What are your symptoms?
  2. Do you believe you’ve been in contact with someone who has COVID-19?

My answers were enough for her to recommend testing.

Within an hour of hanging up, I received an email with my appointment time for the next day.

On Thursday, April 2, I showed up at the drive-thru testing site near the Prime Osborn Convention Center and was met with large signs that read “DO NOT roll down your window” and “Do you have a pen?”

The first doctor you come in contact with takes your information, license and confirms your appointment. This is all done with your window rolled up.

Then you navigate across the entire back parking lot through cones, just in case of long lines. On the day I went, however, there were only three cars in front of me.

Once you pull up to the testing tent, doctors in personal protective gear ask you to confirm some basic information and then, a moment later, you’re tested.

The test at the Prime Osborn site is very similar to having a strep test done. The health care worker swabs the back of your throat and then tells you, “You’ll receive your results in about five days.”

The overall process was actually very easy. The next few days was what was tough.

You see, the doctor wrote me prescriptions to soothe my sore throat and cough, but I was too scared to leave my house to go pick them up.

I also realized we didn’t have any Tylenol or acetaminophen like my doctor recommended in the house. I had tried to get some earlier in the week, but couldn’t find any.

The only medicine I could find online I instantly wanted to report to the Florida attorney general’s price gouging hotline.

So, I made do with DayQuil and NyQuil that we had leftover from the last time I was sick.

The good news was I slept as much as a cat. In fact, after getting tested, I slept for almost 18 hours straight.

Then the isolation hit in. My boyfriend and I decided we would quarantine in different bedrooms since he had not shown symptoms.

I could only speak to people through text because my throat hurt too much to talk.

If I’m being completely transparent, I was actually nervous to reach out to friends because I didn’t want to worry anyone before getting my results. (That obviously did not work with my mother. On day three, she called me six times while I was napping and I had to politely ask her to please stop calling.)

On Sunday, or day four, I started feeling better -- enough to at least change my clothes and start eating again.

That night I got the email: Your results are negative.

Don’t get me wrong -- I was very, very relieved not to have COVID-19, but then my next thought was then why was I so sick? What if I end up getting COVID-19 in the near future? Do I have to go through all of this again?

The entire experience was physically tolling yes, but the emotional one was a bit overwhelming.

Here’s the thing: I’m the lucky one. I didn’t have COVID-19. I didn’t have to self-quarantine for 14 days.

But this scare was enough to put this virus into perspective for me.

So when you turn on the news every night, I ask you this:

Please don’t make comments that we are overhyping.

If someone is feeling sick, do not undermine their experience. Getting sick in the times of a pandemic, no matter what it is, is very different than getting sick on a normal Tuesday.

Finally, stay at home. I have returned back to work because it is my job to keep informing.

As someone in our newsroom once said, “We may not be first responders, but we are first informers.”

Stay home, wear your mask and check on your neighbor. We will get through this together.

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