The line for a COVID-19 test is nobody's idea of the Happiest Place on Earth.
"This isn't Disney," said Shawn Baxley, vice president of field operations for Vault Health, the company that runs Minnesota's network of free community testing sites. "People aren't looking for magic. People are worried. People are stressed."
Minnesota wanted to make the test the least stressful part of getting tested.
Baxley, who used to work for Disney, has learned a thing or two about how to keep lines manageable and how to keep people in line from feeling miserable.
Down in Florida, cars idle in line for hours at the drive-in testing centers as families try to squeeze in a COVID test before the holidays.
New York City created a site to guide residents to the testing sites where the wait is under two hours.
A friend of mine in Georgia waited three hours for a test for her feverish son and counted herself lucky because the wait at another testing site was five hours.
In Minnesota, you can take a COVID test without setting foot out of your house. The state will mail a test kit to you, free of charge.
If you do leave the house, there's a network of free community testing sites across the state, in the biggest and airiest spaces Baxley and his team could find. The Albert Lea Armory. The Central Lakes College gymnasium in Brainerd. Terminal 1 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
I got tested at the Minneapolis Convention Center in a bright, clean, enormous exhibit hall where there was no crowd and the longest wait was in working up enough saliva to fill the little test tube.
There was almost no line, even though there were dozens of other people there, doggedly trying to fill their little test tubes.
I had my results the next morning. Negative.
The lines were longer a few months ago, when Minnesota and Vault rolled out the community testing sites.
In the days before lines were scary and crowds were scarier, Disney parks and stores distracted guests by giving them something to do while waiting — a riddle that took an hour to solve while you worked your way to the front of the line for the Indiana Jones ride, a trivia contest while you waited to check out at the Black Friday sale at the Disney store.
Vault staff encouraged people in line for the COVID test to pull out their phones and start filling out their paperwork while they waited. Heads down, shuffling through their wallets for their insurance cards, most people reached the front of the line — if there was a line — before they finished filling out the forms.
"It's the same principle. Giving people something to do in moments of stress helps relieve stress," Baxley said. "We started getting feedback like, 'Wow, how efficient.' 'The lines went fast.' When really, the lines were going at the same pace."
Minnesota has poured more than $150 million into community testing infrastructure. Testing sites, at-home testing kits, mobile testing centers that can roll into town when cases spike.
We lost nearly 5,000 Minnesotans to COVID-19 before Christmas. We can't bear to lose any more.
Knowing your status is the best gift you can give the people you love and the strangers you don't want to kill this holiday season.
This year has tested us. Next year will, too.
Keep acing that test, Minnesota.