COVID-19: HSE offers free walk-in testing

To detect more COVID-19 cases, the HSE set up so-called walk-in test centers at the end of March to offer free Corona testing. The figures prove that even people without any symptoms can have the virus.

Wearing white overalls, the mask covering two third of his face, the tall man in one of Dublin’s Covid walk-in centers, set up by the HSE, carefully puts the small testing stick into my mouth. That was easy. Now comes the feared part of the whole process. “Lay your head back and try to relax”, the man says. Easier said than done! Soon the testing stick enters a part of my nose that I didn’t even know existed.

It starts to get uncomfortable. I feel tears running down my cheeks and can’t do anything about it. “Five, four, three, two, one”, the man says and finally pulls the stick out of my nose. “Was it very bad?”, he asks. “Well, it wasn’t nice, but doable”, is my answer. Comfortingly, he pats my head.

It was my first Covid-test ever. The only other time I was close to getting one was in February when I got a message from the Covid tracking app that I was a close contact. However, I didn’t develop any symptoms and at that time only people with symptoms were tested.

This time, I went to the testing center despite being again completely fine, no symptoms at all. But as part of the HSE’s enhanced Covid-testing for local communities, they started to set up walk-in centers at the end of March. From week to week they change the location. Whoever goes there doesn’t need an appointment and the rapid Covid-test is free. The only rules are that you have to be aged 16 years or older, you don’t have symptoms of Covid, you live within 5km of the testing center, and you have not been tested for Covid in the last six months.

All these points applied to me, so why not give it a try? I especially thought this, because a lot of people don’t have any symptoms but still carry the virus and infect other people. The figures from the HSE walk-in centers prove that. From the more than 42,900 people who have been tested since the end of March, 1,416 were positive. That means a positivity rate of 3.4%. According to the HSE, the rate was highest among those aged 15-24 and lowest in the over 65s. What all these people had in common was that they were not aware of any symptoms.

“Around 1 in 5 people have no symptoms of COVID-19 and can spread it without knowing”, says Niamh O’Beirne, the HSE National Lead for Test and Trace. “We would urge people living near a walk-in test centre and who are concerned about COVID-19, to get a free test today.”

That is exactly what a man who entered the testing center shortly after me did. “I just came here because it’s across the road”, the taxi driver says. For him it was handy. He wouldn’t have done it, if the centre was further away. “I had Covid in December 2019”, so he wasn’t very concerned that he could have it again.

That it’s better to be on the safe side was the opinion of another volunteer. “Usually I get tested at work every week”, the 57 year old man says. However, he was off sick the week before, “so I want to be sure. I have kids at home.”

The next day, I promptly received a text message with my result: “The HSE can confirm that this test did NOT detect COVID-19 virus”. Although I wasn’t very concerned that I could be infected, I felt released reading that message – bearing the high positivity rate in people without symptoms in mind.

On Monday, new centers will open in Celbridge and Tullamore. The three centers in Dublin in The Liberties, Coolock, and Mulhuddart, which have been operating for the last week extended their opening period to later this week.

Pauline Stahl
Pauline Stahl

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