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What It’s Like to Get Tested for Covid-19 in Czech Republic + How This Brno Café Is Raising Awareness

Chloe' Skye is a Word Magician and avid traveler who served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at Gymnázium Tišnov from 2014-2015. Originally from New York, Chloe' has also taught ESL in the U.S. and Israel, and while she currently lives in Denmark, she considers Czech Republic her second home. Her sustainability writing and creative work has been published in Earth911, Pangyrus LitMag, Standart Mag, Hanging Loose, and more. She records her adventures on travel, culture, and language blog Chlohemian.

This is an adapted version of a Chlohemian post that originally appears here. All photos are used with the author, Chloe’ Skye’s, permission.

When the pandemic hit Europe in early March, Czech Republic took proactive steps against Covid-19 transmission, including a national movement to sew and wear masks called Celé Česko šije. Since Monday, October 5th, however, the country has gone back to a state of emergency due to the intensity of the second wave of the novel coronavirus. Many Schengen countries have closed their borders to Czech Republic now that they have one of the largest caseloads in Europe. How did this happen?

There are two possible reasons. One is that Czechs are starting to protest the mask and other regulations they were so willing to adhere to in the beginning, encouraged by signs saying to “be considerate” (Buďte k sobě ohleduplní) and that “we will get through this together” (Spolu to zvládneme). Unfortunately, a growing number of Europeans are experiencing Covid-19 fatigue and are beginning to see regulations aimed to protect the most vulnerable among us as a burden on their personal freedom.

(Some governments are, in fact, using lock-down as a cover to pass invasive anti-privacy measures. We need to deal with this serious lack of trust in our institutions, but cannot use it as an excuse to minimize the risk of the virus.)

I’ve been personally disappointed to hear some of my friends say the measures go too far and/or that the virus is not as serious as it seems. I take this seriously, as my own sister is a long-hauler (has lost her sense of smell since mid-spring).The novel coronavirus is a risk for people of all ages.

Another reason is that Czech Republic is discovering more cases due to wider testing capabilities, and this is a positive thing. The system is not perfect – when you go to sign up for a test, you may not see open spots for a week, and the Hygienické stanice a zdravotní ústav (also called Hygiena, or hygiene office) is overburdened by the need to conduct fast and efficient contact tracing. The good news is that we have the supplies and motivation. See the latest global updates here.

Why I needed a Covid-19 test

As an expat, I’ve had Covid on my mind since it arrived – it meant cancelling my yearly visit home and the uncertainty of not knowing when I’ll see my family again. You may feel some of these same anxieties. It’s not easy to be dealing with the pandemic in an unfamiliar country and worrying about the situation at home at the same time.

Since I’d been taking social distance very seriously,
I wasn’t too worried for my own safety – but then, the pandemic became personal, as it has for so many of us when it literally hits home.

When my father-in-law’s colleague tested positive and stayed home with fevers, everyone who came in contact with him began working from home. Then my father-in-law tested positive, too. He reported feeling tired, but thankfully was otherwise asymptomatic. Because of this, the Hygiena asked us to quarantine at home for 10 days (because of the testing delays, I was home for 2 weeks). It is possible that if any of your colleagues tests positive, you may be asked to do the same.

Both my mother-in-law and I received a call from the Hygiena and were asked to go for testing at the end of our quarantine period. The health representative was willing to speak to me in English, which was great, but this is not a hard and fast rule. If you are expecting a call, try to have a Czech speaker in the vicinity.

Quick phrases:
Bohůžel, neumím česky. Mluvíte anglicky? - Unfortunately, I don’t speak Czech. Do you speak            English?
Moment, prosím. - Wait a moment, please.

In my experience, the representative did not ask about all people I had come into contact with, only about older people or front-line health workers. You may want to volunteer this information for contact tracing purposes, but ultimately they will make the decisions.

Check out the Brno Expat Centre’s Guide for facing the novel coronavirus as an expat in Czech Republic.

How do you pay for a Covid-19 test?

When you have Czech insurance, a test for the novel coronavirus is free even if you are not Czech. When booking a testing appointment, you will be asked to give your insurance company information and rodné číslo (the Czech version of an SSN, assigned to you when you got your residence card). Have your residence card with you at the computer.

If for any reason you are without insurance, it’s okay – you can pay for a test yourself as a samoplatce or self-payer. It will cost you about 2000 czk ($85) to buy a testing “pack” (balíček) online. It is possible that if you live in a less populous area, they may ask you to send the money to the hospital account through your banking app.

What is it like to be tested for Covid-19?

All testing is done early in the morning and it’s recommended not to drink or eat anything for 1-2 hours before your test (Hygiena will advise you). My test was at 7:30 am so this was relatively easy. Come to the testing facility at least 15 minutes early just in case and wear your mask.

In my case, a health worker greeted me in full PPE and brought me to a white trailer located in the hospital garden in order to keep testing facilities separate from elderly patients. The trailer was mostly empty except for a chair for me to sit in and a filing cabinet that doubled as a storage unit for supplies and a table for papers.

If your Czech isn’t strong, don’t worry – there is very little need for language here. The health worker knows what to do. It is a good idea to have a Czech speaker nearby if you have any questions, though.

How will they test you?

The health worker will indicate when it’s time to remove your mask. The test involves a long cotton swab. They will either swab both nostrils or the back of your throat (most likely the nostrils). Both are only uncomfortable for a moment - as a super-squeamish person who used to kick my childhood doctor when they wanted to vaccinate me, I promise it’s not that bad :)

The nurse then gave me a sheet of paper with instructions. You should receive your results within 24-48 hours by text and can also see your results in an online portal with a personal code. If the health worker gives you a generic paper without your code, be sure to ask for yours (I had to do so).

Quick phrase:
Můžete mi prosím napsat kód do portálu? - Can you please write down the code for my portal log-in?
You can shorten this to “kód do portálu prosím” and make writing motions with your hand. They           should easily understand. :)

What happens if you test positive?

People who test positive will receive a text message and a paper in the mail as well as a phone call for further follow up.

What happens if you test negative?

You will receive a text message with your results but otherwise, there is no further follow-up. You can access your test results online if you like. Insurance should take care of payment for you.

My results? I tested negative, but then had to suffer through my father-in-law (“an island of positivity”) joking how unfair it was that he had to share a house with two “negative” women (including my mother-in-law) for the entire quarantine period. ;)

What you can do after getting tested

We are learning more about the novel coronavirus all the time, and there’s still so much we don’t know. I am so grateful that the European health care system makes testing free (or low-cost if you pay yourself) and accessible to its residents.

I’m sure you understand that while a negative test result means you can go back to work, it is not an excuse to take down your mask, not social distance, or disregard safety regulations.

Negative results are not evidence of whether you have had covid in the past, evidence of immunity or evidence of whether you have antibodies (which is a separate test).

Even if you are taking anti-coronavirus regulations seriously, you may come into contact with community members who are not. So what can you do?
  • Be a good role model. Share your experience. Wear your mask and encourage others to do the same. Keep your distance even when others do not do the same. Czechs are susceptible to peer pressure just like everyone and may mirror your actions – many people are just acting how they see others around them act.
  • Educate. It’s not a good line of offense to criticize someone’s country or culture when you’ve just arrived. You can, however, speak about the situation in the U.S. and how it could have been avoided. Always speak from personal experience, and if you feel comfortable, mention your anxieties for loved ones back home - emotions can be very effective here. Gently educate about mask and test facts if you feel comfortable.
  • Keep your humor. We are all tired and a little worn out, but it’s important to do the right thing even when it’s hard. I love watching comedy shows from the U.S. and sharing them with my Czech friends. It’s a fun activity that allows us to bridge cultural divides and relate on a human level. These can sometimes be good teaching tools for students and English-speaking colleagues, too.
  • Last resort: Be explicit. If someone gets uncomfortably close to you, ask them to step away (Simple phrase: Rozestup, prosím). Politely end a conversation in which someone refuses to wear their mask and walk away. It is not offensive to ask people to follow the rules. If you’re in a public place, you may ask the police or another authority figure to help.

A Brno café supporting Covid-19 awareness

Before the latest round of regulations, I visited one of my favorite kavárny, Kult Café in Brno. This coffeeshop is making use of its extensive gallery space to embrace the collective effort against Covid-19. You can see this in photos throughout this article, including models and illustrations of the virus, mask designs, and drawings of people wearing masks.

Yes, the virus has changed our world, but we can still find community over a coffee (taking our masks off just long enough to sip). Masks and other regulations do not take away our humanity – on the other hand, it can unite us both as part of our collective unconscious and very much conscious experience... just like a healthy love of caffeine. If you’re in the area, be sure to stop by and support them! 

For questions, coffee chats, and more content about expat life in Czech Republic, find Chloe' at Chlohemian, and feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn!