A long line ahead of Minal and me on a cold and rainy morning as we waited to get tested for COVID so we could fly today
Even though I have flown between the US and Karachi, Pakistan for more than three decades, I feel as if preparing for today’s journey has been like getting ready to fly to the moon. Just getting a COVID test in Los Angeles proved to be an obstacle course especially since last weekend, the Pakistani government changed its COVID testing requirements to take place within 48 hours (instead of 72 hours) before boarding a flight; in the meantime, one does not even have to show vaccination records before catching a flight within the US.
This fall, almost two years after the outbreak of COVID-19, a national crisis has unfolded in the US as people race to clinics, drugstores, and community centers to get tested before they make holiday plans. Thanks to a friend, I managed to find a clinic in Burbank, just 20 minutes away from us. The man on the phone assured me that if we took the Real Time (RT) PCR Covid-19 test at 8:30 am on Thursday morning, we would have results by Friday morning, eight hours before our flight.
Yesterday morning, Minal and I drove through rain to reach the clinic. There, we found a line of people wrapped around the building, trying to stay warm as temperatures dipped and hovered close to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The line moved slowly even as everyone huddled close to the wall. Some had brought blankets with them, while others sat on camping chairs that they adjusted as the line shifted. After more than 90 minutes, Minal and I finally reached the window. There, the same man who had answered my call the previous day, poked his face out of the rectangle window carved into the wall. His mask dangled below his hooked nose.
He typed out our personal information into his phone and stepped back to create space for a younger man to step forward and poke cuticles into our noses.
“You’ll have results tomorrow,” the first man told us. He gave us a phone number to call.
Exhausted from standing in the cold, I didn’t ask if we would receive texts or emails with the testing results that we could then print and use for flying. At night, we finished packing our clothes, making sure to take dressy clothes for the wedding, casual clothes for exercising and yoga, and daily wear for other social visits – but we didn’t know whether we would be able to board the plane.
In the morning, I began calling the number that the man had given us. We needed those results to board the flight. After hours of trying, I finally reached him. “Both of you are negative,” he told us. “Send me your full names and DOBs and I’ll get the results to you.”
I didn’t ask why we needed to offer the information that we had seen him type into his phone all over again. When the information finally landed in my email, I got a note, have a good flight.
The obstacle course to get test results combined with the personalized response from the man at the clinic makes me feel as I have already landed in Karachi.