Sitting in a van in a parking lot is not what I would have thought a pandemic would look like.
Just one day after the province’s first three cases of presumptive COVID-19 cases were confirmed, I’m in the parking lot of the Access Fort Garry health clinic with my daughter, waiting to get tested for a virus which not long ago was on the other side of the planet.
And it won’t be a short wait. We are numbers 220 and 221. An hour ago, they were testing number 85.
They said we could either wait inside a large waiting room — filled with people who look sick and are wearing masks — or wait in the vehicle.
I chose the vehicle option while waiting for our number to come up.
A further hour later, we checked where we are in line ... they said check back in another hour.
At least we have a number. Shortly after 3 p.m., they began saying they were full for the day and were turning people away. Newcomers were told to come back on Saturday or — if they felt sick — to go to urgent care at Victoria Hospital.
Symptoms? Well, I have a persistent dry cough, bit of a sore throat, and almost constant swallowing. My energy level is probably around 80 per cent of normal.
But I do have one major marker that isn’t normally a health symptom — I’m a recent international traveller.
Earlier this month, we spent a week in Minnesota and a couple of days in Minneapolis. At the time, there was no public notification that anyone in that state had tested positive for the virus. Little did we know that lack of notice appears to be more because little to no testing was being done down there, rather than no people walking around with the virus.
Who knows who we may have made contact with at the Mall of America or anywhere else we ventured but, a couple of days before we came back, I started to get sick. Really sick.
In fact, so sick that I twice visited the very clinic that I’m outside of now, to get checked. At the time they said I didn’t meet the COVID-19 criteria and it was likely just the seasonal flu.
I ended up being off work for more than a week before coming back to the newsroom earlier this week — again thinking I was just suffering the end of a seasonal flu and no longer contagious.
What a difference a week makes.
Now, suddenly, with my daughter also not feeling great, we meet the criteria and will be tested.
From the parking lot, we see people go into the clinic and, a few minutes later, come out wearing what is becoming the ubiquitous blue masks over their mouths and noses. With small children, the mask becomes more like a face mask for sports — only their eyes can be seen.
A handwritten sign on the outside door announces drop-ins have been cancelled at what normally is a clinic for scheduled patients as well as drop-ins.
A nurse — or maybe she is a health care aide — sits at a small table inside the clinic’s double doors. When people enter, she asks a few questions, tells them to use the hand sanitizer on the table, and then hands them a face mask and a piece of paper with a number on it.
The clinic itself is so busy — with dozens of people walking around or sitting, and many wearing masks — it has the feel of a wartime MASH unit.
The available seating is almost full. A room that says it is normally an education room has been opened as an auxiliary waiting room and almost every chair there is also full. A few people sit on the floor of an out-of-the-way hallway.
But the "friendly Manitoba" motto seems to be widely heeded, with everyone in good humour and taking the wait in stride. T here are lots of laughs as people converse with their new masked friends.
My number comes up and I go to the nursing desk, where I am promptly signed in and put into another line for testing. They say it could be up to a two-hour wait there.
In the end, we don’t know if we tested positive for the virus. The results won’t be known for at least 48 hours.
Weekend plans will have to be cancelled as my entire family has to isolate at home until we get the results.
Driving off, all we can do now is what at least another two or three hundred other people at this clinic must also do — wait.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.