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Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

Diatribe: DIY COVID Testing

In the early days of this global pandemic (I can’t believe that’s a sentence I just wrote) I used to hold my breath and count to 30 as an attempt to assess my health. I read on Twitter that if I couldn’t last all 30 seconds, I probably had COVID. Just over a year later, I’ve settled on a different, annoyingly identifiable symptom instead––loss of taste or smell. 

At least three times a week, I wake up with the overwhelming certainty that I’ve lost at least one of the two. The (false) revelation happens while I’m laying in bed, before I’ve eaten/drank/sniffed anything at all. It’s an intuitive feeling, a sense of doom that seizes me. You’ve heard of morning anxiety. 

Each day, the first bite or sip taken could theoretically deliver the unwelcome news that COVID literally claimed your body overnight. What a pleasant thought. In an effort to ease our collective nerves as a student body, then, I’ve taken it upon myself to compile a list of foods which you can rely on to gauge whether or not you’re just in your head, or you’re actually unable to perceive flavor. The line can be blurrier than you think. 

Acid is a good place to start. Not the drug, but the realm of foods, drinks, and condiments. Kimchi, pickles, vodka. Any of these have a flavor potent enough to send your senses into a panic and immediately reveal whether or not they are operating properly. Wasabi and Sriracha sauce are some other good bets. Save for alcohol, each of these unfortunately require refrigeration. For those of us without some form of fridges in our rooms, a shelf-stable jolt of flavor is necessary. Enter, Takis. 

Sure, a fiery, bright orange chip might not be a natural craving when you first wake up, but would you rather realize you have COVID halfway through your day? Didn’t think so. Vinegar is another non-refrigerated item that is sure to do the trick. I wouldn’t wish a spoonful of vinegar on my worst enemy, so for this one I’d say just sniffing the opening of the bottle is enough. No need to actually swallow it. Consider leaving a container at the side of your bed for easy access as soon as you open your eyes. Wake-up, assess your palate and odor processing, then get ready for your day. Nothing is normal right now, so it’s as good a time as any to establish a new routine for yourself.

I hate to say that many of what one might call “classic” morning foods are just too bland to rely on for systematic COVID self-testing. Not bread in any form, not oatmeal, not even peanut butter. Homemade eggs might be seasoned enough to test your sense with, but rely on dining hall eggs for their flavor and you risk a surge of panic and/or a false self-diagnosis.

I suppose, if you’re in a pinch, coffee could also do the trick.

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Next to writing, some of my favorite ways to spend time include designing Spotify playlists for friends and making grocery runs to Trader Joe's. I'm drinking coffee or tea almost constantly, and my mantra is the classic yet undeniably basic, "If it's meant to be, it will be!"

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