The only thing more dystopian than an abandoned and boarded-up gas station is a boarded-up gas station that has been converted into a drive-through COVID-19 testing site.
Throughout the pandemic, I have periodically driven by the testing site at Abrams and Northwest Highway in northeast Dallas, a former gas station that has seen better days. The site used to be a YesNoCovid testing location, a company formed in June 2020, but it has shuttered, and I have to wonder if its absence means they know something we don’t about the rest of the pandemic.
Despite the makeshift infrastructure and thrift-shop signage, the site was often packed and a constant reminder that we were still in a pandemic, despite society moving on in nearly every way. Depending on whether we were ramping up or winding down from one of the many COVID-19 waves, cars would wrap around the old gas pumps and into adjacent parking areas, sometimes lining up and stopping traffic on one lane of Northwest Highway. Employees in full PPE would hustle between the cars no matter the weather conditions while the patients waited behind steering wheels, thinking about how they would arrange childcare while their kid stayed home from school, if they would have to cancel their weekend plans to avoid spreading the virus, or perhaps reflecting about friends and family who suffered and died from the virus.
The testing site was always my favorite because, as an urbanist and lover of nature, I prefer infill development and increased density, but I also appreciated how a sketchy-looking location could be perfect for COVID-19 testing. I saw testing sites in what appeared to be undersized shipping containers and storage sheds, but the ‘Walking Dead’ vibe of the gas station always held a special place in my heart.
But when I drove by earlier this week, I noticed that the YesNoCOVID.com signage had been painted over, and there were no cars in the lot, despite Dallas County still adding about 1,000 new cases per day. There was a DuWest realty sign in the parking lot where cars full of potentially coronavirus-carrying families had once been.
So does YesNoCovid know that the pandemic is coming to an end? Do they have an inside track on future variants or treatments that will decrease the need to be so vigilant? Maybe they looked at history. The Spanish Flu epidemic lasted from February 1918 to April 1920, about 26 months. The World Health Organization named COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020, though cases had started appearing earlier than that. However you want to calculate the beginning of the pandemic, we are either nearing or past the 26-month mark. Perhaps YesNoCovid is playing the odds and wanted to get out before the COVID testing business dried up.
I called the company’s Austin number, but it was no longer in service. The website is still up, listing 14 testing locations throughout the state. I sent an email to the company and reached out to DuWest to get to the bottom of the disappearing testing site but haven’t heard back from either. Maybe there is a new location, or perhaps the whole company is no more, but I figure if business projections were strong (more variants, cases, waves), it would still be in business.
I, for one, am choosing to take the disappearance of my favorite COVID-19 testing site as a sign of brighter times ahead. I know there are many other sites, but perhaps YesNoCovid is the canary in the COVID coal mine.
Maybe my kid can go to school for the first time in his life without a mask. Maybe I can head to a concert without a lingering fear that I am putting my more vulnerable loved ones at risk. Maybe this is the beginning of the end. Maybe.