Two youths share their experience going through a nasal swab test in Singapore

Both students agree it was an uncomfortable and somewhat intrusive experience.

Anis Nabilah
Anis Nabilah

Published: 8 April 2020, 5:15 PM

I’ve always been curious about how the COVID-19 nasal swab test is conducted. I’ve heard a lot of news about Singapore’s efforts to test for the virus, but never really knew how exactly the test is done.

On Mar 24, host and entertainer Rosalyn ‘Rozz’ Lee documented her nasal swab testing experience on her Instagram stories. It was rather disturbing to watch a long cotton swab being inserted into her nostril.

Rozz shared that Raffles Medical Group conducted the free nasal swab tests on those who had just landed at Changi Airport. PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM ROZZ’S INSTAGRAM

To find out more about what the experience of going through the test is like, I spoke to two people who have gone through COVID-19 testing.

Getting tested at the NCID

21-year-old student Joel Phoon was studying in the Netherlands before he returned to Singapore on Mar 23, following the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ advisory encouraging overseas Singaporean students to return home due to the escalating COVID-19 situation.

Joel (front row, holding the Singapore flag) with his peers while studying in the Netherlands. PHOTO CREDIT: JOEL PHOON

Joel had a runny nose before leaving the Netherlands and called his General Practitioner (GP) once he got home to make an appointment.

He said: “Due to my symptoms, and the fact that I had close contact with someone who had recent travel to the United Kingdom (my sister had recently returned from there), the GP called for an ambulance to take me directly to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) for testing instead.”

Joel was isolated in one of the wards at NCID to undergo testing for the virus. PHOTO CREDIT: NCID WEBSITE

Similar to Rozz, Joel also underwent nasal swab testing. This test utilises a long cotton swab to collect nasal secretions. The cotton swab is inserted 5cm deep through each nostril to reach the back of one’s nose and throat. The DNA sample from the swab is then compared to DNA samples from the virus.

Joel said: “Essentially, a nurse sticks a cotton swab down both nostrils — extremely far. I’m not exaggerating when I say this.

“It was extremely uncomfortable and quite painful too. I heard it was just a swab from the back of the throat so I didn’t think it would be as intrusive as it turned out to be. I never knew my nasal passage went that far back.”

Joel added that he did not feel anxious or scared during the testing process, but he really wanted to get it over with.

After roughly 12 hours, Joel received his test results back and thankfully, tested negative for COVID-19.

Getting tested at Changi General Hospital

Ameerah Sallehudin underwent nasal swab testing on Feb 21.

When the 18-year-old student got tested, she didn’t know much about the COVID-19 testing process as the number of cases in Singapore was still relatively low and the virus was “new”.

Ameerah had been having a fever on and off for a few days before visiting her neighbourhood clinic. The doctor had told her that it was more than just a fever, but the clinic didn’t have the necessary equipment to diagnose her.

Ameerah was referred to a hospital where she underwent a blood test, X-ray and the COVID-19 test.

“The process was so fast that you won’t actually get to think much… Also, I think I have a strong pain tolerance,” Ameerah said in reference to the virus testing.

Ameerah also shared that her doctor “was very nice and gentle”, and entertained the lame jokes she told as a way of coping with the discomfort.

The nasopharyngeal test lasted all of two minutes, and Ameerah got her test results (she tested negative for COVID-19) via phone call after a day.

Ameerah was in Changi General Hospital for about seven hours, and underwent a series of tests which determined she had an upper respiratory infection instead. PHOTO CREDIT: CHANGI GENERAL HOSPITAL’S FACEBOOK

Who should get tested

If you are showing any symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, the guideline from the Ministry of Health is to pay a visit to your doctor and they’ll determine the steps to take.

This especially applies to those who have recently travelled overseas or been in contact with someone with suspected exposure to the virus.

You can visit to look for Public Health Preparedness Clinics and polyclinics near you. IMAGE CREDIT: SCREENSHOT OF FLUGOWHERE.GOV.SG WEBSITE

Although COVID-19 testing is available for suspect cases, we should try our best to prevent the need for getting tested altogether.

Monitor your health by staying home as much as you can, check your temperature daily to ensure you are not running a fever, and stay updated with the news. We have to play our part in heeding the circuit breaker measures, lest we want long cotton swabs shoved up our nostrils.

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