Want to get tested for COVID in Birmingham? What it’s like + what you need to know

COVID test in Birmingham
“This won’t hurt a bit…” Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

As COVID cases in and around Birmingham continue to rise, more of us will have the opportunity to get tested. After getting a notice that we’d been around someone who tested positive, my husband and I decided to get tested. Here’s what it was like and what you need to know if you need to get tested.

American Family Care offers rapid-result COVID testing

rapid-results COVID testing at American Family Care in Birmingham
American Family Care is one of the places that offers rapid-result COVID testing. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

After we got notice of exposure to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19, our next question was “where will we get tested?”

A quick Google search first led me to Urgent Care for Children, since they offer testing for whole families, but when I called, they said they only opened at 2PM.

Great during school times, but not so much in the summer. The person I spoke with mentioned rapid-results tests, which turned out to be just the keyword I needed.

My next-search for rapid-results COVID testing in Birmingham led me to American Family Care near Whole Foods.

Here’s what happened next:

  1. I had to register on their website, first for my husband, then for myself. For me, the COVID popup did not come up after I had filled out the first form, so I had to use a different browser to be able to fill it out a second time.
  2. After a while, I called because I hadn’t received a call back. The nice man who answered assured me they were pretty backlogged and I’d be getting a call at some point.
  3. Still thinking we were going to be able to get tested that day, I called back a few hours later. Still nothing.
  4. Later still, I called again. At that point, the man told me I could expect a call by the end of the day and that we would likely have our test the following day.
  5. Late that afternoon, while I was on a work call, I did get a call back. They could take my husband and me at 4:45PM on Saturday. There were only two slots available, so we wouldn’t be able to get the kids tested. They assured me that if we were positive, they likely were, too, and same for if we were negaitive. We booked the appointment. Also, they said anyone who asked to be tested could, and that insurance covered 100% of the cost.

Before: the waiting game

goingin scaled Want to get tested for COVID in Birmingham? What it's like + what you need to know
Entering American Family Care for the big moment of truth. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

The beauty of the rapid-results test is that you don’t have to wait long afterwards to find out if you’re negative or positive. The downside, for us, was that we had to wait Thursday, Friday and most of the day Saturday before getting tested. Those weren’t the happiest days we’ve ever had, and it would be fair to say we worried a lot more than we normally do. We also stayed home and to ourselves.

Then the day and time came and we hopped in the car to head to American Family Care. We all brought masks and sanitizer with us.

My husband went to sign us in and they said it would be about 10 minutes, so we waited in the car. In about 10 minutes, it was my turn, so I went in and was happy to see how they had clearly marked the waiting room with where—and where not—to sit. Everyone was wearing masks.

He and the kids waited outside until it was his turn.

waitingroom scaled Want to get tested for COVID in Birmingham? What it's like + what you need to know
It was reassuring how clearly they had marked chairs in the waiting room. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

During: there were a couple of steps to the COVID test

waitingforthetest rotated Want to get tested for COVID in Birmingham? What it's like + what you need to know
“Who’s scared? I’m not scared, are you scared?” Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

The first thing that happened was that a man wearing a mask, gloves and scrubs took me to the place where they would normally take your blood pressure. Instead, he put an oximeter on my finger and took my temperature with an ear thermometer.

Next, they called my husband in and sent me to a room to wait. The kids came to hang out in there with me, and once he was done with part one, my husband came in, too.

thetest scaled Want to get tested for COVID in Birmingham? What it's like + what you need to know
So close… Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

When it came time for the actual test, I went first to get it over with. It took about 3 seconds per nostril, and about 1.75 seconds of that was intensely uncomfortable on each side. If you’ve ever jumped off a high dive or done a flip in the water without holding your nose, the feeling was similar to that.

I cannot imagine being a student athlete like the guy who tested us—he’s a soccer player who has to get tested twice a week during the season in order to play. Yuck.

The good news is, when it’s done it’s done, and there were no lingering unpleasant feelings.

Then we just had to wait a few minutes.

After: getting the results + celebrating

dogpark scaled Want to get tested for COVID in Birmingham? What it's like + what you need to know
Celebrating our negative results at a local dog park. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

A different guy came into the room after a few minutes to tell us that we were both negative, which was a big relief.

We decided to celebrate with a socially distant visit to a local dog park with some family we hadn’t seen since March, followed by takeout and dinner at a local park.

I will say, today as I was getting ready to write this story, I learned (a bit late), that the accuracy of rapid-results tests is somewhat in question. I couldn’t get in touch with American Family Care on the phone to ask them about the brand and accuracy of the tests they use, but if I were doing it again, those are definitely questions I’d ask.

The last thing anybody wants is a false negative, followed by a sense of relief and perhaps a visit to someone you haven’t seen for a while only to realize that you were, in fact, positive. 🤦🏼‍♀️

If you want to get tested in Birmingham

alabamapublichealth Want to get tested for COVID in Birmingham? What it's like + what you need to know
If you need basic COVID info, here you go. Graphic via Alabama Public Health’s Facebook page

At this point, if you want to get tested, you have a lot of options in Birmingham. The Alabama Department of Public Health COVID-19 FAQs page is a good place to start.

There are many options for testing, including:

  • drive-through testing sites
  • doctors’ offices that will offer tests
  • pharmacies like CVS and Rite Aid
  • urgent care centers like American Family Care or Urgent Care for Children

There are mobile testing units that come to different parts of the city (text BHMCOVID to 888-777, and probably some other options I don’t know about.

Some questions you’ll want to ask:

  • What are the criteria for getting tested?
  • Does the place offer rapid-results testing (if that is important to you)?
  • Can you get a specific appointment time or do you need to drive up and wait?
  • Is the test self-administered or administered by a professional?
  • Do you wait in your car or come in to a waiting room?
  • If you have children, is there a safe place for them to be while you are getting your test?

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Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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