Joanna Lin Want | March 12, 2021
I spit into a plastic vial as Whitney Houston belts out, Oh! I want to dance with somebody. I want to feel the heat with somebody! Her voice instantly sets off a deep sense of longing in me, the desire to be in a crowded room of dancing people. Instead, I obediently stand on a green dot on the gymnasium floor to ensure that I remain six feet away from anyone else as I wait to take a COVID-19 surveillance test, now a standing bi-weekly appointment on my spring semester calendar. Once the site of loud, cheering crowds, the Joyce Center is now our campus surveillance testing site.
As instructed, I have avoided “eating, drinking (including water), tooth brushing, mouth washing, gum chewing and tobacco use for at least 60 minutes” before submitting my saliva. And despite the fact that everyone in the room is here to do the exact same thing as I am — spit into a vial to make sure we’re not asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 — I feel a slight sense of embarrassment as I pull down my mask and begin the belabored task of filling it up to the prescribed line with my saliva.
Unbeknownst to me as I stand spitting and listening to Whitney Houston is that the scientist who developed the first saliva test for the coronavirus passed away just four days before. The New York Times obituary for Dr. Andrew Brooks recounts that “he earned spending money by performing magic shows at birthday parties. Though he was adept at tricks involving doves and rabbits, his real forte was close-up handwork, especially card tricks.”
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