World TeamTesting: COVID-19 testing inside WTT's West Virginia bubble

World TeamTesting: COVID-19 testing inside WTT's West Virginia bubble

There's a lot more to the coronavirus testing experience than just a really large Q-tip.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va.—If you’re curious what a COVID-19 test is like, World TeamTennis players staying and playing at The Greenbrier in West Virginia can provide the intimate details. It’s entirely voluntary to join the 2020 WTT season, but it's mandatory to get tested for the coronavirus.

The test is immediately associated with a long swab going so high up your nose that it tickles your brain.

"I actually took a selfie video of it and I didn't post it because I was so disturbed," says Bethanie Mattek-Sands. "You see this [swab] go what seems like 12 inches into your nose and hang out there for a solid seven seconds."

To put it simply, the nasal swab is unpleasant and unnatural. Everyone involved in WTT had to arrive on site with a recently dated negative test, and the majority experienced the nasal-swab variety. The swab, which is much longer and has a bigger head than a Q-tip, has no warm-up routine before it goes straight in. The sensation is overwhelmingly foreign. You tear up and, for 5-10 seconds, you're on the cusp of feeling pain. You can even taste it.

Some doctors will swab both nostrils, some just one. For a few hours afterward, your nose might feel just like after a dive went wrong in the pool when you were a child. 

A doctor holds a COVID-19 sample at a golfing tournament in Austria. (Getty Images)

Upon arrival at The Greenbrier, the second test was less invasive, as the CDC continues to update regulations—the swab only went in about an inch.

"I did have the other test as well; a little bit less in both nostrils," Mattek-Sands says. "We're kind of doing what we have to do right now."

The test itself is just a part of the process. Some players and coaches—including Tommy Paul, Evan King, Sabine Lisicki, John Lloyd and Luke Jensen—haven't been allowed on court until a negative result comes back, raising questions and some awkwardness.

The waiting is when worry can settle in. Google results are erratic over basics like how long the virus can last on a surface, what all of the symptoms are, if it’s really contagious in open air, and more. You start to second-guess everything you’ve done in the past 14 days, like stopping at a gas station, shopping in a grocery store, walking past an unmasked stranger or sitting down for an outdoor dinner with friends. 

"I'm a little bit nervous about doing normal stuff," says Rajeev Ram, who had no testing apprehension. "I haven't been at a hotel since February so it's just a little bit weird."

Mattek-Sands in action on Sunday with Rajeev Ram after their tests came back quickly. (Ryan Loco)

Even if you’ve been following every safety guideline, there might be a little “what if?” lingering in the back of your mind every day until the result comes back negative. The nagging worry has been an elephant in the room for weeks. The greatest relief is knowing everyone involved is feeling the weight of it. 

Some people handle the anxiety much better than others.

"At the end of the day, I've done what I can to the best of my ability," Mattek-Sands says. "You've got to let go of it. Maybe that's just my lifestyle and my life perspective. Once you're waiting for it, it's kind of out of your control."

"What am I going to do?" Tennys Sandgren says. "You either got it or you don't got it. As long as I don't feel sick, it is what it is."

Sandgren's Orlando Storm are 1-1 so far at The Greenbrier. (Ryan Loco)

But the possibility of being asymptomatic would leave you blindsided by a positive result. For anyone famous, the stakes are higher as a positive test wouldn’t just be hard on the body, it would also be very hard on the public image. 

“It's sometimes maybe the few people that you worry about that may ruin it for the rest of everybody," Steve Johnson says. “If 95 percent of us are doing the right things and the five percent aren’t, it could lead down a slippery slope of where this thing could go.”

Two rounds of testing has helped to create a quarantine bubble, but the protocols will not let up and neither will the scrutiny. An added stress is judgment from so many online that isn’t experiencing how everyone is behaving. 

Fans are now must wear masks while moving around, but not when seated—ample space between fan groups has not been an issue in the 2,500 seat stadium. Players aren't wearing masks on court, but they are avoiding high fives. 

Mattek-Sands with Chicago Smash teammates Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard. (Ryan Loco)

"For me it's tough because I didn't realize I was so handsy," Mattek-Sands says. "I always put my arm around people; I'm high-fiving. Maybe I should take a note and realize I'm in too many people's personal space more often than I should be."

While there has been a recent uptick in cases in West Virgina, there have been less than 100 cases in Greenbrier County, and the state ranks seventh lowest in the country with 4,400 cases as of Tuesday. 

"We're all staying quarantine pretty much in the hotel," Mattek-Sands says. "We're only going to certain areas for food. Everything is being sanitized.

"I really feel you've got to kind of incorporate [all the protocols] into your lifestyle and into the whole event. I feel that WTT has done a good job with that." 

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