Some utterly pointless charts about the Covid tests I’ve done since September 2020

Published on 1 November 2021 in ,

In early March 2020 the Prime Minister of this country told anyone who had developed a new continuous cough within the last seven days, to isolate at home.

As soon as I learned about this request, I started counting. For I had a nasty, hacking, cough.

Counting back I reckoned the cough had appeared at least eight days earlier so I went about my business as usual. A few weeks later the UK would enter it’s first Covid-19 lockdown.

With no ability to take a test, it remains one of my great “what if…” questions. Was I an early sufferer of Covid-19? Or was it a similar virus I was suffering by coincidence? I will never know.

(In July 2021 I did get the opportunity to take a fingerprint blood test that could determine whether I had had Covid-19 naturally. It came back as a no. If the virus I had 16 months earlier was Covid, the antibodies I had from it had long gone.)

At some point I started using the Covid Symptom Tracker app on my phone to record my health. In September 2020 I was feeling a little under the weather and an email arrived in my inbox inviting me to get a PCR test. The app is a research project looking at symptoms and behaviours of the virus, and to see if they could predict who had Covid-19 based on symptoms. As a research project they got an arrangement with the government to allow people to do a PCR test on invitation. I ummed and erred and eventually decided to book on test on the same day my children were sent home from school with a “back to school” cough. I was convinced none of us had Covid-19 – and was proved correct – but thought it would be good for science, as well encouraging the children by allowing them to see they weren’t going to do something I wouldn’t.

Another invite followed in 1 January which meant I spent part of New Year’s Day celebrating with a swab up my nose.

In March lateral flow tests started to be ruled out with school age children an early target group. And so I got into the habit of doing those twice a week.

With each test I was invited to log the result into the Covid Symptom Tracker app. And slowly but surely I began to develop a set of data about Covid-19 and me. I idly wondered about visualising it but never got round to converting the data into a usable format. Until one day in October 2021.

We’d spent the half term in Keswick in the Lake District. Whilst we were there there was huge amounts of flooding. And one of the household started developing a cough. On our final day it started to get worse.

On our return said person was dispatched to the local testing centre. As we waited for the result, I took a lateral flow test. I had started coming down with a sore throat. Research from the app people said this was now a common symptom of Covid.

The lateral flow came back negative. But the PCR for the person with the cough came back positive the next morning. So, following government advice, the rest of us got tested that Saturday. By the evening we had the results. Two more came back positive, with one negative. One of the positives was myself.

Having had both my vaccine doses, the last one five months earlier, I wasn’t unduly worried. But I have asthma and coughs, colds, and proper flu-like viruses can knock me back a bit.

Apart from the sore throat I initially felt fine but on the Saturday evening I got the shivers quite badly and got a slight cough. Sunday I began to feel very fatigued. Moving around the house was difficult. But lying in bed I wasn’t too bad. I dozed a lot and in-between dozes, felt a bit bored.

Bored enough to take all that test data out of the app and into a spreadsheet. Now, it seems, is a good time to dig into the data as the official advice is not to do Covid tests for 90 days after a positive result. What follows is the result of boredom. Although that’s still far better than doom-scrolling Twitter.

It turns out since Covid-19 appeared I had taken 65 tests. One antibody test, five PCR tests and the rest lateral flows. Putting the antibody test aside, that’s 64 tests and 98% came back negative, including the final lateral flow test.

Now to look at the number of tests by month.

Okay, this I find interesting. Somehow I had managed to take exactly eight tests each month from April to August. And I would have done for October had it not been for two PCR tests I took. One on the middle month that I took after the revelation that I was a close contact of someone who later tested positive (this came back negative) and then the final test at the end of the month when I got a positive.

You could suggest that’s a result of taking the test every three or four days regularly. Two tests a week for four weeks is eight tests. But all but one of our months are longer than 28 days. Besides, I didn’t always take them that consistently. Some weeks I did three tests. Other weeks only one. In August there’s a two week period when we were on our summer holiday when I didn’t do a single lateral flow. And in June I took them more frequently in the run up to meeting a friend for a weeks walking holiday that started at the beginning of July. For all those eights to turn up is quite a coincidence.

Breaking the chart down to include test types shows how infrequently the PCR tests were. Although I suspect I have taken more than many people.

Of course in all this the only important result of the positive one. I consider myself very fortunate to have got this far without having had Covid-19. Hopefully a testament to being careful. But it’s long been clear that it wasn’t “if” I was going to get this virus, but “when”. Covid-19 ain’t going anywhere any time soon.

Humankind is going to be living with this one for a long time. Which is why I will next February I will be back regularly testing myself for as long as the government keep supplying tests. Why I will keep having my vaccine shots. What the world will be like next time I get it, well we can only hope it’s in a better place. And now if you’ll excuse me, I need some rest. No matter how boring it is.