My son can get a COVID test result in 90 minutes. And that’s a disgrace.

Last week my son, who is two years old, developed a fever. Anyone who has children knows that toddlers are naturally inclined to do this every now and again and, in normal circumstances, it’s not a cause for concern. But it’s 2020. Normal circumstances are a distant memory.

Government guidelines required getting my son tested for coronavirus and isolating the household until the results came back, or alternatively for 14 days. Having to quarantine the whole family for two weeks for a fever likely to be caused by a cold or teething didn’t sound like the most productive solution for us, or for the economy. So naturally, I did my best to procure a test. And when the government’s ‘Get a Coronavirus Test’ website inevitably told me there were none available, I did what I could afford to do: I paid for a test at a private GP’s office a few miles away. It cost £250.

£250 is a sacrifice for our family, but an affordable one. For many other families, it’s equivalent to a month’s worth of groceries. When the GP greeted us outside in full PPE (parents have to administer the tests to their children in the car, following the doctor’s step-by-step instructions), he asked how I was. “To be honest, I can’t stop thinking about all the families who are in our same situation and can’t afford to see someone like you,” I replied. He shook his head and said, “I know, it’s a shambles. And the government had months to prepare for this.”

Fortunately for us, the test came back negative and my son returned to nursery within two working days. That same week, an email arrived from his school informing parents that it had procured its own COVID testing machine and any student, teacher or staff member who presents with symptoms would now be tested on campus and have their results back in 90 minutes. The cost of the test will be passed on to us; we expect it to be about £60.

Without a doubt, this news is fantastic for my son and our family. And it makes sense, especially considering that the school has term-time boarders in the older years who share dormitories. Knowing that we can get near-instant results also gives me peace of mind as a busy working mother for whom quarantine would pose some hefty logistical rearrangements. Ours is not the only private school to have invested in COVID-19 tests and rapid testing machines. This kind of responsiveness and diligence in the face of the pandemic is nothing short of brilliant for all those families who are wealthy and privileged enough to send their kids to a school like ours. And it’s the perfect way to pave the path of inequality for life.

Having our son’s test results back within 90 minutes instead of having to isolate for 14 days means he benefits from two more weeks of learning, socialising and developing. It means two more weeks of work for me, where I am both earning an income and advancing my career. It also means two fewer weeks of worry and anxiety about our son’s health and the health of our family. Multiply that by how many times a child is likely to present with a fever or a cough this year, and think about the sheer enormity of unnecessary anguish so many parents and families will be put through.

It is a sad, sorry reflection of our values as a society when those who already have the most resources to adapt to tough situations are precisely the ones who will almost never have to. That I will be able to get a test for my son whenever there is cause for one, while hardworking families across the country will be left isolated for weeks, is an abhorrent betrayal of trust from a government which once promised, and not so long ago, to “put their arms around them.”

The problem here is not independent schools wanting the best for their pupils and staff; that is their duty. The problem is that our government does not understand that it is their duty to do the same for every child in their care.

A rapid testing machine is alleged to cost £32,000 and each can perform about 1,200 tests. If the government was willing to invest the same amount of money helping to keep healthy children in school as they gave to Ayanda Capital for PPE masks that were not even fit for purpose, all of England’s state funded primary schools could have enough COVID testing machines to test every single one of their pupils, with capacity to spare. Instead, families are suffering needlessly under this government’s incompetence.

My son can get a COVID test in 90 minutes. And everyone else’s should be able to too.

* Cassandra is a California-born, long-time Londoner who has one all-encompassing life goal: to democratise power at the executive board level. Having spent nearly 20 years working with some of the world’s top-ranked business schools, in addition to holding three different academic degrees, Cassandra is a tireless advocate for principled business and impact capitalism. She works two full-time jobs, has a very energetic toddler, and runs the Tell It Like It Is podcast, which is devoted to exploring the nuance of what it's like to be a woman in power.

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4 Comments

  • Ours is not the only private school to have invested in COVID-19 tests and rapid testing machines.
    Whilst I fully get we have a problem with government incompetence, I would hope that someone at your school has investigated the marginal costs of operating such a machine and investigated the potential costs (and benefits) of offering its use as a service to state schools in your area; given the machine is (fingers crossed) likely to have only occassional usage (albeit with a potentially large number of tests being performed as-and-when used).

  • John Marriott 30th Sep '20 - 12:54pm

    COVID tests? Why not do what the Finns are doing and train a few dogs to sniff it out? The accuracy rate is apparently amazing.

    Where do we get the dogs? How about places like the Battersea Dogs’ Home and other canine rescue centres? Apparently any dog can do it and it might give them a chance to earn their keep – and get a few treats as well. (No, folks, I’m NOT joking!)

  • David Chadwick 30th Sep '20 - 8:16pm

    Thank you for posting this. It shows how the government is failing in its role as “levelling up”. An example of how someone’s covid-19 “experience” has been determined by their life station, it’s the people at the bottom who have suffered most from the state lacking the capacity to help them.

  • George Thomas 3rd Oct '20 - 8:46am

    Nothing much to add other than to say I felt this was well written and helped highlight one of the bigger issues seen throughout the pandemic.

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