MAASTRICHT. No Inkom in the MECC this year, but this Tuesday afternoon three doctors to be and a psychology student will be having their own ‘party’ in white protective suits. Well, it certainly isn’t a party, although things are quite relaxed in the GGD (local health authority) Zuid Limburg’s new testing facility, it being very quiet. In the MECC’s multi-storey car park on the Paul-Henri Spaaklaan, throat-and-nose swabs are taken for Covid-19 research. Students test students.
‘Please come,’ the medical student Leonard van de Luijtgaarden signals from afar while he grabs a face mask. His three fellow testers, also students, are also curious and appear from behind the shed in the temporary testing site. It is Tuesday, the second day that the location has been open; the second site in Zuid Limburg, in addition to the drive-through facility in Urmond.
Monday, more than a hundred students came by [none of them was tested positive, the GGD reports today, ed.]. Today, approximately half that number. And not just students, by the way, although it was meant for them in the first few days.
Because most of the students still haven’t arrived in the city or the need is not so great, other people from Maastricht are being referred to the site by the GGD Zuid Limburg. ‘Regular’ citizens are also allowed to take a seat in the car park. One is a girl of about sixteen years old, arriving with her mother. Mom smiles cheerfully, the daughter as well, although she is slightly nervous. She copes with the test just fine. The moment the cotton bud disappears into her nose, has been recorded for all eternity by her mother who is standing some distance away. Tester and medical student Manon Joosten, who took the swab, is unrecognisable in the picture because she is fully equipped: glasses, splash screen, face mask, gloves, and white suit.
None of the four students are afraid. “Not really, I have been working with (potentially) infected patients for months,” says Van de Luijtgaarden. In the testing facility in Urmond, for example, where they also regularly work. Martha Jordaan, the odd one out because she studies psychology, already had experience taking swabs. So, the study of Medicine is not a strict condition, she explains.
It was the GGD Zuid Limburg’s wish, in view of the increasing number of infections and the need for more testing, to open other testing locations, says Christian Hoebe, head of Combatting Infectious Diseases at GGD Zuid Limburg and professor at Maastricht University. This being a university with many international students, a testing site in the neighbourhood of faculty buildings – at walking or cycling distance at any rate – was an obvious choice. Not many international students came by today, the foursome concludes, but the information letter in English that their team leader drops off, is more than welcome. “Better than just in Dutch,” they say.
There comes the next visitor. The young man sits down on the recently disinfected chair by Van de Luijtgaarden. But he is not listed in the system, so gets up and goes back out again. “He is going to phone the call centre,” says Van de Luijtgaarden. Everyone who wants to be tested, must sign up beforehand via the GGD Zuid Limburg’s corona information line. That way, the testers know exactly when they can expect someone. And that is good for the flow.
They don’t need to ask about symptoms and circumstances. “The employees manning the telephones have done so already,” says Floor Koonings. “We only need to check the ID card and do the test.” Something which the students have practiced on each other several times. “It is not as bad as it is made out to be in the media,” says Koonings. “Sometimes people come in very nervous and shaking, afraid of what is going to happen, but there is no need for that at all.”
Everyone showing symptoms that might indicate COVID-19, such as coughing and a fever, is welcome. Students from an orange or red high-risk area are advised to drop in anyway, even if they have no symptoms. “We then test pre-symptomatically,” says professor Christian Hoebe. “Two days before you display any symptoms, we can see if you are a carrier of the virus. We want to be on top of things. The quicker the source and contact investigation can be started, the better.”
The fact that the Inkom fell through somewhat, is “an unpleasant consequence of this crisis,” Hoebe admits, but “that is the way it is. You see that the UM and the Inkom Working Group have taken their responsibility. We must prevent it from getting worse.”
With their team leader –“he is so relaxed” – the students joke about all kinds of things. One is leaning against the railings, another is sitting on a chest of drawers. The white suit stays on. To give the article more depth, Van de Luijtgaarden asks whether the journalist would like to take the test for personal experience. “Will I take a swab from you? Then you know how it feels.” The undersigned declines politely. There is a limit to what we will do for the job.