Robert Francis: Stick it in your nose (for future generations)

person in blue jacket holding white textile
Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

“Stick it in your nose until you feel a tickle,” the pleasant young man said to me as he had me trapped in a cubicle that was more like a slightly oversize telephone booth, if anyone remembers those.

I had one of those sudden thoughts that takes you away from present reality. What if, I wondered, I could get into Elon Musk’s time machine (surely he’s got one) travel back to, say 1970, and tell my younger self that in 2020 I would be sticking a nasal swab in my nose in the middle of a global pandemic called COVID-19? I imagine my 1970 self would have revved up my Ford Torino and peeled away from this crazy man with white hair and no acne. “COVID-19? my long-haired self would have said above the din of Honky Tonk Women. What the hell is COVID-19?”

“Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt like the earlier tests,” the man said, thinking I was just hesitant, not briefly back in 1970 wearing bell-bottom jeans from Henry’s Jean Scene.

I completed the nasal swab and knew that my friends who had taken the earlier test would judge me a wimp. The earlier COVID-19 tests were much more invasive and were described as burrowing into one’s brain. Friends I know who took them felt like they were pioneers who could look down on us Johnny-come-latelys as “soft.”

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After the medical technician gave me the test he began searching for a vein to draw blood. He was probing skin that verges on translucent, so I was surprised he was having a difficult time. Finally, he decided on a spot – on my hand as it turned out – and I was worried that he was a recent graduate and none too sure of himself. But that was not the case. I barely felt the puncture and he efficiently began the process of drawing several vials of blood.

Now began the small talk.

“Finished your Christmas shopping?” he asked.

Even with a mask on, he could tell I was smiling.

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“I swear I’m about to start as soon as I finish this,” I said.

He laughed. “I’m in the same boat. I’ve got to buy candles. My sister loves candles. I’m supposed to go to Bath and Bed or something,” he said.

“Bed, Bath and Beyond, it’s over off Hulen,” I said.

“That’s it,” he said, excited. “I hope it’s not crowded. It’s not worth getting sick.”

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I then gave him my COVID-19 shopping secret.

“You should go during the next Dallas Cowboys game,” I said. “I used to go to the stores on Sunday during Cowboy games and they were empty.”

His eyes lit up. “That’s a good idea,” he said. “That’s a good idea,” he repeated as he switched out vials.

“There is one problem,” I said. “Earlier this season, I could go to the stores and they’d be nearly empty during Cowboy games.”

However, I told him, since Jerry Jones’ hot mess of a team has been stinking up the gridiron in recent weeks, my surefire COVID-19 shopping method was not as effective.

“Last Sunday when I went during the game, the store was nearly full,” I said.

“No one cares anymore,” he said. “I get it. It’s hard to watch.”

Finally, blood drawn, we finished and I left and we both said we might see each other again out among the holiday shoppers.

“Be careful,” he said.

“You as well.” Especially him, I thought, here in a place where people come because they are feeling ill.

I was taking a COVID-19 test. Volunteering, doing my civic duty and all that. No, as far as I know, I haven’t been exposed, though I’ve found myself surrounded by unmasked idiots more than once. I just think of myself as Rick Grimes of The Walking Dead wandering among the zombies and get the hell away.

I was participating in the DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study, which is designed to show how widely COVID-19 has spread and why some communities are harder hit.

The study is by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Texas Health Resources and was originally to be invitation only. But participation has not quite been up to snuff, so they have expanded the process to allow anyone who lives in Tarrant or Dallas counties to register online to participate. I didn’t know this until I was watching the Fort Worth City Council meeting this week, so I decided to go online and sign up. It took a few minutes for an online survey (you can also do it over the phone). Earlier this year, the Fort Worth City Council allocated $1 million in CARES Act funds to assist with the prevalence study.

So far, there are slightly more than 2,700 Tarrant County residents who have responded to the survey, but the goal is to reach 15,000 participants by early February.

“Our study seeks critical answers we still don’t have – how many in the community have been infected with COVID-19 and why some communities are being harder hit. The large dataset from 30,000 community volunteers will allow us to improve the strategies for countering its spread as we continue to restore business and school operations,” said Dr. Amit Singal, Texas Southwestern professor of internal medicine and population and data sciences, who is principal investigator for the study.

Participation in the survey has several advantages:

  • The test is 99% accurate, vs. 80-85% accuracy for other tests.
  • There are two free tests, for current and past infection.
  • Participants receive PCR results one to two days after testing. This test is for current infection.
  • There are 13 convenient testing locations in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Why should you participate? You might just save your great-great grandchild’s life. The 1918 influenza pandemic killed around 50 million worldwide yet many questions remain about its origins, its unusual epidemiologic features and the basis of its pathology, according to several medical journals. We should learn as much about this nasty beast while it slouches among us as we can, because it likely will happen again. Maybe we’ll be better prepared.

Volunteers are needed from all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, but particularly from African American and Hispanic communities, which are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

There are five convenient collection sites in Fort Worth:

RCCG Fountain of New Covenant, 6934 South Freeway.

Rising Star Baptist Church, 4216 Ave. M.

UT Southwestern Medical Center at Moncrief Medical Center, 600 S. Main St., first floor.

Southpoint, 4625 Boat Club Road, Suite 217.

Texas Health Harris Methodist Fort Worth, 1325 Pennsylvania Ave., Suite 550.

If you want to participate in the study head to this UT Southwestern page or call 833-947-2577.