Covid-19: The joys of working at a testing site

Photo: Colin D

The pandemic has forced many of us to stop working but also created different kinds of job. One of our Eastlondonlines reporters, Brooke Tremain, has been working at a test centre with an actress, a flight attendant and a fish and chip shop assistant. Here’s her story. 

The pandemic has left us locked inside our homes for many months since last March. When my friends mentioned in January that they had seen an opportunity to get out of the house and work as a testing operative at our local site in Northfleet, I was eager to join them. 

I have my university lectures online at Goldsmiths, University of London, so I find myself with some spare time which is now filled with shifts testing the public for coronavirus. Alongside helping the Covid effort, I’ve also managed to save up some money for what I’m hoping will be a summer closer to normality. 

No extra danger

Upon setting up the site, the army was brought in which meant our operation was efficient and well organised. There are strict cleaning routines in place so I never feel like I’m in any extra danger of catching the virus; among our team, none has fallen ill of Covid-19. 

As a team of around thirty, we all work together to guide the public through the one-way system and into a designated bay, where we explain how to use the swab tests in their nose and mouth.  

There are five different jobs within the centre which we switch daily to ensure everyone is doing something different.

These jobs are front desk where we tick off when the public have arrived for their appointment, queue where we assist the public in filling out the short survey to register their test, testing where we give the public their swabs and explain how to carry out their test, cleaning where we thoroughly disinfect the bays after each test and scanning where we scan and send off the result.  

Sweet treats and drinks

The public are always appreciative of our efforts. The local Morrisons even sent our staff a care package filled with sweet treats and drinks which made our jobs even more rewarding. Our site is open Monday to Sunday, 8am-3pm and we’re currently confirmed to at least be running until the end of March. 

I enjoy being on the site; it adds some structure to my life and feels worthwhile.

I also feel like I’m a part of history and can tell my children that I was someone who did my bit to fight the pandemic when they ask about it in years to come. 

But what I’ve enjoyed most during my time at the test centre is being surrounded by a joyful group of people who just like me are simply grateful to be surrounded by others with a small move away from the constant isolation. 

My colleagues; Ellie (left), 20, owns her own makeup business and Jemima, 19, is an actress.

It’s interesting as we stand uniformly in our aprons, visors, masks and gloves to learn and enjoy stories of what fellow staff did before this new norm.  

I work among an actress, a cabin crew member, and someone who has travelled endlessly and keeps a notebook filled with all the destinations to name but a few. 

Nik Shelton, our site supervisor, was a senior flight attendant before he joined the test centre. 

“I do enjoy the work within the test centre. It’s amazing to be able to be part of a team that is helping the community stay safe during Covid,” he says. 

Nik worked in the cabin crew industry for 26 years before his role at the test centre.

Nik looks after the 24 staff members on-site, ensuring it runs effectively day to day. As well as being our on-site first aider and looking after payroll and sickness. 

“I feel completely safe working here, Kent County Council has provided everything we need to be able to stay safe with effective training that was given to us before starting,” said Nik. 

Routine in lockdown

Sam West, 18, works alongside me as a testing operative; he is a fellow Goldsmiths student who studies football business and finance.

Like me, he has been able to manage his time completing his degree from home while picking up some shifts. 

“I enjoy meeting new people every day at work. It also feels good being able to keep in a routine in lockdown,” he says. 

Before the pandemic Sam helped behind the counter at his local fish and chip shop for four years. 

“I feel safe, ever since the training day, we were told how to comply with all the necessary PPE for our roles. I am also able to keep a safe distance from any members of the public whilst maintaining decent standards at work,” said Sam. 

The government now recommends that everyone without symptoms should get tested every two weeks.

Around one in three people with Covid-19 have no symptoms so getting tested regularly ensures you aren’t unknowingly spreading the virus. If you happen to book your test at the centre where I work, I may see you one day. 

Leave a Reply