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Jim Cotton, an awkward journalist, questioned the...

I was tested for coronavirus at the cancelled UAE Tour

In the basement of a hotel packed with businessmen, tourists, and cycling media from around the world, a medical team was slowly but surely working through the guests in the hotel, calling them down to be tested for Covid-19.

I was tested for coronavirus Friday afternoon, having been placed in quarantine in an Abu Dhabi hotel, while working at the UAE Tour.

Here’s a brief timeline of what’s happened here in the hotel in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, and all the details of the coronavirus quarantine and test and quarantine thus far.

On Friday morning, we were informed by RCS Sport, organizers of the UAE Tour, that we would be tested for the Covid-19 virus by a medical team in the hotel, later in the afternoon. In the meantime, we had to remain in our rooms. That’s a great way of containing the spread of a contagious illness, but perhaps not the greatest way to contain speculation and rumor, as journalists from around the globe exchanged messages about just what the heck was going on.

Having spent the early part of the day confined to my hotel room, I was delivered a meal of a packaged sandwich, chips (I’m British, and that’s what ‘french fries’ are supposed to be called) and juice box filled with apple juice. Having not eaten since 7 a.m., when hundreds of hotel guests mingled, fingered fruit at the breakfast buffet, I was hungry.

[ RELATED: 2020 UAE Tour cancelled amid coronavirus alert ]

Meanwhile, in the basement of a hotel, a medical team had assembled, and was calling guests down from their rooms to be tested for coronavirus. I heard from a journalist friend that the whole process had been delayed as the agency conducting tests either didn’t have enough equipment, or had lost some of it en route to our hotel. I could not confirm this.

Just as I finished my frites and juice box, I got the call. It was my time to be tested.

sammich and chips
Hotel guests were treated to a meal designed for children. Photo: Jim Cotton

I went down to the hotel basement, to be met by members of RCS Sport who had been organizing the media through the week, along with a handful of staff from the Abu Dhabi Public Health Center, who were fully enshrouded in medical overalls and face masks. From there, I was ushered through to a second room.

What initially drew my attention in this second space was the hubbub of medical staff at the end of the long room, all fully dressed in protective suits and masks, like the first team I met. To one side was a row of chairs, with bemused members of various media outlets sitting, waiting for their test results.

To the other side of the room was a desk with members of staff both from the medical agency and RCS Sport. Their role was to take down all our key information, and the operation was headed up by none other than RCS boss Mauro Vengi—the man charged with overseeing events including the Giro d’Italia, Milano-Sanremo, and now—the medical testing of a bunch of journalists.

We were asked to complete a form with our names, birth dates, address, passport numbers, room numbers, etc. Above our personal information was a waiver that requested we keep officials informed of any turn in our health, and “avoid disclosing any type of related information (written, audio, or visual) through social media or any other means of media.”

Being an awkward journalist, I questioned the directive about disclosures of information. At first Vengi told me to ignore it. I pressed the matter, asking what I was signing, Vengi became frustrated. I continued to request more information on the policy, at which point more RCS staff arrived. I decided to play ball, sit down, and keep quiet.

As some background, Covid-19 testing may be conducted through several methods:

  • Swab test: A health care provider uses a special swab to take a sample from a subject’s nose or throat.
  • Nasal aspirate: A health care provider injects a saline solution into a subject’s nose, then removes the sample using gentle suction.
  • Tracheal aspirate: A health care provider inserts a thin, lighted tube called a bronchoscope down the subject’s mouth and into the lungs, where a sample is collected.
  • Sputum test: Sputum is a thick mucus that is coughed up from the lungs. A subject may be asked to cough up sputum into a special cup, or a special swab may be used to take a sample from a subject’s nose.
  • Blood: A health care professional draws a blood sample from a vein in a subject’s arm.

In the most ideal circumstances, lab testing results may be available from 40 to 120 minutes after a sample has been obtained. But we were not in an optimal environment for getting speedy results.

Since I technically did sign the waiver, I’m going to have to keep the details of the actual test to myself for the time being, per the request of the Abu Dhabi Public Health officials. Let’s just say my nasal passages are a bit raw.

Journalists were tested for Covid-19, with diagnostic kits similar to—and hopefully more accurate than—the one pictured here. Photo: CDC

So, journalists like myself, along with the riders and staff, stay here in our hotels and await the results of the tests. We have not been given a specific time frame for when the results will be available.

The swimming pool beneath my balcony looks nice. I can’t see myself being allowed in it for some time yet.